Plants, Genes and People
Shaping food as we know it
For at least 10,000 years, people have been reshaping plants to fit our food needs. Through the power of choice, plus the powerful addition of science, people have changed plant genes to address ongoing challenges like drought, diseases, and climate change. Look closer to see the exciting technologies that have allowed food production to keep pace with an exploding world population.
Explore The Stories
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A Plant Breeding Continuum
  • Simple Selection
    The power of choice shapes the plants we eat. For at least 10,000 years, people have made choices about which seeds to plant. Their choices have reshaped food plants completely.
  • Controlled Crosses
    Plant breeders and farmers use scientific knowledge of inheritance to increase the power of selection. Breeders choose parents with desirable and make intentional crosses to reshape varieties more quickly.
  • Hybrid Technology
    Plant breeders harness the yield bump caused by hybrid vigor. Plant breeders inbreed different parents and then combine them for unexpected gains.
  • Molecular Markers
    Advances in genetics allow plant breeders to use landmarks in the DNA to speed the plant breeding process. Using DNA markers allows plant breeders to focus selection on specific stretches of useful DNA.
  • Genetic Engineering
    Scientists, including plant breeders and geneticists, use sophisticated genetic techniques to introduce useful genes from other organisms across previously uncrossable species barriers. After introduction, scientists use crosses and selection to move the new genes between varieties.
  • Genome Editing
    Recent advances allow scientists and plant breeders to disable, repair or replace genes. This editing uses a bacterial defense system and can modify living cells. Once a gene is changed, scientists use traditional plant breeding crosses to modify and improve varieties.
Using the Stories in the Classroom
The Plants, Genes and People case studies help students organize and make sense of the range of genetic technologies – from simple selection, to controlled crosses, hybrid crosses, marker-assisted breeding, genetic engineering and genome editing using CRISPR - that have allowed food production to keep pace with an exploding world population.

The Educator's Guide provides an overview of the case studies, NGSS Alignment, student worksheets, teacher notes and suggestions for using Plants, Genes and People in your classroom.
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