Can you select for ‘robustness’?

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My mum and son ensuring preparing the ground for non-robust seeds

Was at the allotment the other day, and my son Frederick asked how the seeds we plant could ever survive when it took so much work and preparation to plant and support them. I said it was because they’ve been selected (by breeding) to produce high yield, and that tends to make them less robust (in comparison to e.g. weeds). So he asked why don’t we breed in robustness. I instinctively said that you can’t do that, because breeding involves selecting for a characteristic, whereas (I think) robustness implies performance under a range of different conditions, some of which will not even be known to us. Of course, I agree you can breed in resistance to a particular circumstance, but I think robustness is about resistance to many circumstances. I think a robust population will include wide variation in characteristics, whereas selection by breeding tends to refine the characteristics, reducing variation. My reply was instinctive, but I think it’s broadly speaking correct, although it would be nice to find some counter examples!

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3 thoughts on “Can you select for ‘robustness’?

  1. λ says:

    An absolute noob here, but my opinion is that we’re effectively trading robustness for other (more desired) properties. Obviously, the more properties you’re optimizing for — the harder the problem is.

  2. You can indeed breed and select for robustness. you are right that we are always limited to make selection based on a set of known environments. Breeding for robustness is normally done by measuring performance and variation around its means across many environments. Actually, many plant variates are more populates because they are robust, less uncertainty aboutntheir yield, than because they are high yielding.
    You can select for robustness adross any environment, kind off so called dynaminc robustness, or for specific environments, statis robustness. Lots of literature on this, search for phentypic plasticity and breeding and you will get it.

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