The diploid genome (2n = 18) of sugar beet is quite well characterized: 9 chromosomes 760cM, draft genomic sequence (750MB, 55,000 genes). Many genomic tools are available (SSR markers, many genetic maps, BAC libraries, EST sequences ...) or under development (SNPs, physical map). Bioinformatic tools, still in their infancy, are helping us to make selection less expensive and more effective.

120910-081It has been observed that the genetic variability used in breeding is increasingly narrow. Genetic improvement of crops, however, depends primarily on the continued contribution of this genetic variation. One can estimate that the variability currently used represents less than 20% of the total variability available. Allelic variation in the sugar beet species is preserved in two main international seed banks: USDA-GRIN for USA and ECPGR-IPGRI for Europe. The potentially useful resource is estimated at around 10,000 accessions.

Innovation in research methods

In addition to broadening the germplasm base, the selection needs to be more efficient and better targeted, requiring innovation in phenotyping methods that are now too general. It will be especially valuable to make use of knowledge acquired in growth modeling, and to focus in particular on the early phases of growth, in terms of tolerance to water stress, pests and diseases.

120910-103Concepts and technologies developed for sugar beet will be useful for other species and as such may constitute a model: the relative simplicity of phenotyping techniques because we are mainly interested in the vegetative part of the cycle, excluding phenomena of sexual reproduction; the relative simplicity of the genome and the considerable knowledge that is already available (genetic maps, complete sequencing ...).