About us

Plant Breeding is involved in education, research and consultation in the field of plant breeding in the broadest sense. Education is performed at all levels from BSc, MSc and PhD to specific courses for external parties.

Plant breeding and genetic resources is one of the MSc specialisations within the study Plant Sciences.  For more information on curricular education please consult the BSc and MSc study guides. For more information on other courses please consult Dr. Sjaak van Heusden and/or Dr. Rients Niks. For consultation and more practical aspects please consult Dr. Rene Smulders. For aspects of policy and scope of research and training consult the head of Plant Breeding Prof. Richard Visser.

Plant Breeding has more than 120 personnel and at any time between 50-80 students and guests. Research is organised around five themes with emphasis on crop plants although whenever possible and useful Arabidopsis is included or used.

Focus Plant Breeding

Within Plant Breeding major emphasis is placed on the development, characterisation, maintenance and exploitation of genetic material. To this end collections of plants (segregating populations, Nils, Rils, DH, transformation host etc) are made in the most important focus crops Brassica rapa, barley, potato, tomato, lily and rose. Besides this, tools for efficient breeding are developed like molecular markers for traits (genes, libraries, maps etc). This leads to the deposition of large amounts of phenotypic and descriptive data (Transcriptomics, Proteomics, Metabolomics, Microarray, consumer tests) in databases. The efficient use and integration of all these datasets is made possible through the development and implementation of statistical & computer programmes which we develop as well.


History & Context

The expertise group Plant Breeding exists since 2005 and is a cooperation between:

  • Laboratory of Plant Breeding of Wageningen University
  • Business unit Biodiversity and breeding of Plant Research International

Plant Breeding is involved in education, research and consultation in the field of plant breeding in the broadest sense. Education is performed at all levels from BSc, MSc and PhD to specific courses for external parties. Plant breeding and genetic resources is one of the MSc specialisations within the study Plant Sciences.

Within Plant Breeding major emphasis is placed on the development, characterisation, maintenance and exploitation of genetic material. To this end collections of plants (segregating populations, Nils, Rils, DH, transformation host etc) are made in the most important focus crops Brassica rapa, barley, potato, tomato, lily and rose. Besides this, tools for efficient breeding are developed like molecular markers for traits (genes, libraries, maps etc). This leads to the deposition of large amounts of phenotypic and descriptive data (Transcriptomics, Proteomics, Metabolomics, Microarray, consumer tests) in databases. The efficient use and integration of all these datasets is made possible through the development and implementation of statistical & computer programmes which we develop as well.

Plant Breeding

To create new cultivars the plant breeder disposes of a gamut of possibilities. The most simple way - already applied for ages - is searching for the best plants in a crop: selection. More progress can be made by including plants from all over the world in the selection process to make optimal use of natural occurring genetic variation. A further step is making crosses by which characteristics of different plants are combined. Sometimes traits can be changed artificially through chemical treatment or radiation: mutation. As a result of increasing knowledge on the organization and action of tissues and cells during the past decade, new techniques have become available such as fusion of cells of different species (cell fusion), exchange of pieces of genetic information between different organisms (transformation) or elimination of genes causing adverse effects. These new techniques are commonly indicated as genetic modification, though actually nearly all breeding activities are kind of genetic modification. Most practical plant breeders are active in private seed companies where methods and techniques are applied for the creation of new varieties. Within Plant Breeding emphasis lies on breeding research, which focuses on development of new methods and techniques.

History and Development of the Laboratory of Plant Breeding

The history of the Laboratory of Plant Breeding begins already in 1912 when the Institute for Breeding of Field Crops was established as a unit of the State College for Agriculture, Horticulture and Silviculture (the predecessor of the WAU which is nowadays known as WUR). Shortly after the name is changed into Institute for Plant Breeding (IvP), an institution in which all aspects of breeding are concentrated: education, research, variety development, registration and testing. Many of these tasks have gradually been taken over by daughter institutes. Famous cultivars like 'Wilhelmina' and 'Juliana' wheat are for ever connected with the IvP and the names of the first directors, professors Pitsch, Broekema and Dorst, live on in the memory of many people.

The name Laboratory of Plant Breeding was given to the former IvP at the educational reform in 1997, the core tasks (education and research) have been expanded. The laboratory became a modern and fully equipped centre of education and research in which about 15 permanent staff and ca. 50 temporary staff, for the larger part young graduates are employed. Many of the non-permanent staff are employed as Research Assistants (AIO) and prepare their Ph.D. thesis.

For over 75 years, the Laboratory was located in an Amsterdam Style building which despite drastic internal renovation has kept its original character. In 2001, the laboratory moved to a more recent building, together with other plant science laboratories. The Laboratory has labs for biochemistry, tissue culture, cytogenetics, botany and molecular genetics. Further experiments can be conducted in growing cabinets, climatic rooms, glasshouses, plastic tunnels and gauze compartments. The Laboratory disposes of tens of ha of clay soil and of several ha of sandy soils. Besides experiments can be executed at the 'Ir. A.P. Minderhoudhoeve, the experimental farm near Dronten in the Suderseepolder district.

In 2005, The Laboratory of Plant Breeding moved to its current location where it joins with the buisniss unit Biodiversity and breeding to form the expertise group Plant breeding.