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AI and Speed Breeding Feeding the Future

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as a potent tool with the potential to address one of humanity’s most pressing challenges: feeding a global population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, all while combating the adverse effects of climate change and the rapid evolution of pests and pathogens. Pioneering researchers at The University of Queensland have harnessed the power of AI to revolutionise agriculture and ensure sustainable food production.

Led by Professor Lee Hickey of UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, the research team recognises that AI opens doors to accelerate the development of high-performance plants and animals, fostering enhanced farm sustainability and profitability.

The challenge faced by breeders lies in transforming an overwhelming volume of data – billions of data points – into actionable insights that can inform intelligent decisions throughout the breeding process. Professor Hickey noted that AI can aid in the identification of which plants and animals can be used for crossing or carrying forward to the next generation.

Professor Ben Hayes, co-inventor of genomic prediction, outlines four pivotal applications of AI in the realm of crop and livestock breeding:

  • Informed Breeding Choices: The task of deciding what to breed has grown increasingly intricate. Consumer preferences play a crucial role, making AI a valuable tool to amalgamate the diverse desires of millions. In this way, AI refines the selection process, ensuring that breeding aligns with evolving market demands.
  • Image Analysis at Scale: The team leverages AI to analyse vast collections of images that capture genetic variations among related plant lines and desired traits in animals. By swiftly discerning patterns and correlations, AI accelerates the identification of promising candidates for breeding.
  • Genetic Marker Predictions: Genetic markers offer valuable insights into the potential of a variety for breeding. AI processes this marker data to forecast a variety’s suitability, facilitating more informed decisions in breeding selection.
  • Revolutionising Breeding Strategies: The conventional approach of evaluating individual genetic lines evolves into a broader perspective, viewing a breeding population as a collection of advantageous DNA segments. AI orchestrates the fusion of these segments through strategic crossings, ultimately creating new and superior genotypes.

A pivotal element in this paradigm shift is the integration of “speed breeding,” a technique that expedites plant generations, enabling swift evaluation and advancement of optimal genotypes. By combining AI-driven selection with speed breeding, researchers and breeders can remarkably expedite the generation of superior genotypes within a mere year or two, a revolution in the field.

UQ researchers are actively pushing the boundaries of this innovation in collaboration with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Wheat and barley projects serve as pioneering examples of how speed breeding and AI synergise to reshape the agricultural landscape.

Professor Hickey envisions a groundbreaking horizon in plant and animal breeding, asserting that the fusion of speed breeding, genomics, and AI represents an unparalleled frontier. In this landscape, the utilisation of vast datasets becomes a wellspring of transformation. AI’s impact goes beyond the streamlined identification of coveted traits; it extends to the strategic amalgamation of genetic segments, culminating in the development of superior and comprehensive genotypes.

Professor Hickey and Professor Hayes have expressed their visionary insights in an opinion piece published in Nature Biotechnology, titled “Advancing Artificial Intelligence to Help Feed the World.” This publication underscores the urgency of embracing AI-driven approaches in agriculture, emphasising how this synergy can expedite the development of robust crops and livestock, poised to meet the multifaceted challenges of feeding a burgeoning global population while navigating an ever-changing environment.

The marriage of AI and agriculture marks an extraordinary milestone in humanity’s quest for sustenance. By harnessing AI’s analytical prowess and coupling it with the agility of speed breeding, researchers at The University of Queensland are ushering in an era where data-driven insights and rapid generational turnover converge to create a bountiful harvest of innovative and resilient crops and animals. This fusion of technology and tradition is poised to reshape the future of agriculture, offering a beacon of hope in a world striving to nourish its inhabitants amidst a dynamic and challenging landscape.


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