Speed breeding in growth chambers and glasshouses for crop breeding and model plant research

To meet the challenge of feeding a growing population, breeders and scientists are continuously looking for ways to increase genetic gain in crop breeding. One way this can be achieved is through 'speed breeding' (SB), which shortens the breeding cycle and accelerates research studies through rapid generation advancement. The SB method can be carried out in a number of ways, one of which involves extending the duration of a plant's daily exposure to light (photoperiod) combined with early seed harvest in order to cycle quickly from seed to seed, thereby reducing the generation times for some long-day (LD) or day-neutral crops. Here we present glasshouse and growth chamber-based SB protocols with supporting data from experimentation with several crop species. These protocols describe the growing conditions, including soil media composition, lighting, temperature and spacing, which promote rapid growth of spring and winter bread wheat, durum wheat, barley, oat, various members of the Brassica family, chickpea, pea, grasspea, quinoa and the model grass Brachypodium distachyon. Points of flexibility within the protocols are highlighted, including how plant density can be increased to efficiently scale-up plant numbers for single seed descent (SSD) purposes. Conversely, instructions on how to perform SB on a small-scale by creating a benchtop SB growth cabinet that enables optimization of parameters at a low cost are provided. We also outline the procedure for harvesting and germinating premature wheat, barley and pea seed to reduce generation time. Finally, we provide troubleshooting suggestions to avoid potential pitfalls.