The enormous potential of big data has already been demonstrated in areas such as financial services and telecommunications. An international team of researchers headed by the Leibniz Institute IPK has now for the first time tapped the potential of big data for plant research on a large scale. For this purpose, data from three projects were used to increase the predictive accuracy for the yield of wheat hybrid varieties.

“We were able to fall back on the largest published data set to date, which contains information from almost a decade of wheat research and development,” says Prof. Dr. Jochen Reif, head of the breeding research department at the IPK. The results, which could herald a new era in plant breeding, have now been published in the magazine Scientific advances .

Finally, data from more than 13,000 genotypes tested in 125,000 yield plots were analyzed. For comparison: in a breeding program, plants are tested in 20,000 yield plots every year. “It was clear to us that we had to increase the population size in order to ultimately develop robust forecast models for the yield,” says Prof. Dr. Jochen Reif, “so in this case it really was once: ‘A lot goes’ a long way'”. The effort was worth it, he said. “We were able to double the forecast accuracy for the yield in our study.”

The research team used data from the two previous projects HYWHEAT (funded by the Federal Ministry of Research and Education) and Zuchtwert (funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture) as well as from a program run by the seed manufacturer KWS. Basically, the challenge with such studies is to prepare the information at a uniform quality level and thus to enable a joint analysis. “Since we were responsible for the design of the experiments from the very beginning, we were able to plan them in such a way that a small proportion of the same genotypes were always tested across projects, making an integrated analysis possible in the first place. “, Says Prof. Dr. Jochen Reif.

The scientist firmly believes that it is worth using big data for plant breeding and research. “Ultimately, we worked on the future of all of us,” says the IPK scientist. “We have succeeded in demonstrating the potential of big data for breeding high-yield varieties in times of climate change.”

According to Prof. Dr. Jochen Reif a meaning that goes far beyond a single type of culture and hopefully heralds a cultural change in breeding. “We were able to show the great benefits of big data for plant breeding. However, the possibilities for this are only possible through trusting cooperation between all parties involved in order to exchange data and master the challenges of the future together. ”

Ultimately, this is also the entry point for the use of artificial intelligence (AI). “The successful use of AI also stands and falls in plant breeding and research with curated and comprehensive data. Our current study is an important door opener for this path. ”

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