Mutation breeding is the process of exposing seeds to chemicals or radiation in order to generate mutants with desirable traits to be bred with other cultivars. Plants created using mutagenesis are sometimes called mutagenic plants or mutagenic seeds. From 1930â€"2014 more than 3200 mutagenic plant varietals have been released that have been derived either as direct mutants (70%) or from their progeny (30%). Crop plants account for 75% of released mutagenic species with the remaining 25% ornamentals or decorative plants. However, although the FAO/IAEA reported in 2014 that over 1,000 mutant varietals of major staple crops were being grown world wide, it is unclear how many of these varieties are currently used in agriculture or horticulture around the world, as these seeds are not always identified or labeled as being mutagenic or having a mutagenic provenance.


There are different kinds of mutagenic breeding such as using chemical mutagens like EMS and DMS, radiation and transposons are used to generate mutants. Mutation breeding is commonly used to produce traits in crops such as larger seeds, new colors, or sweeter fruits, that either cannot be found in nature or have been lost during evolution.

§Radiation breeding

Exposing plants to radiation is sometimes called radiation breeding and is a sub class of mutagenic breeding. Radiation breeding was discovered in the 1920s when Lewis Stadler of the University of Missouri used X-rays on maize and barley. In the case of barley, the resulting plants were white, yellow, pale yellow and some had white stripes. In 1928, Stadler first published his findings on radiation-induced mutagenesis in plants. During the period 1930-2004, gamma rays were employed to develop 64% of the radiation-induced mutant varieties, followed by X-rays (22%).

Radiation breeding may take place in atomic gardens; and seeds have been sent into orbit in order to expose them to more cosmic radiation.

§Use of chemical mutagens

Mutation breeding

High rates of chromosome aberrations resulting from ionizing radiation and the accompanied detrimental effects made researchers look for alternate sources for inducing mutations. As a result an array of chemical mutagens has been discovered. The most widely used chemical mutagens are alkylating agents. Ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) is the most popular because of its effectiveness and ease of handling, especially its detoxification through hydrolysis for disposal. Nitroso compounds are the other alkylating agents widely used, but they are light-sensitive and more precautions need to be taken because of their higher volatility. EMS has become the mutagen of choice for developing populations for highthroughput screening such as in developing TILLING populations. Although many chemicals are mutagenic, only few have been used in practical breeding as the doses need to optimised and also because the effectiveness is not high in plants for many.


According to garden historian Paige Johnson

After WWII, there was a concerted effort to find 'peaceful' uses for atomic energy. One of the ideas was to bombard plants with radiation and produce lots of mutations, some of which, it was hoped, would lead to plants that bore more heavily or were disease or cold-resistant or just had unusual colors. The experiments were mostly conducted in giant gamma gardens on the grounds of national laboratories in the US but also in Europe and countries of the former USSR.

§Comparison to other agronomic techniques

Mutation breeding

In the debate over Genetically Modified foods, the use of transgenic processes is often compared and contrasted with mutagenic processes. While the abundance and variation of transgenic organisms in human food systems, and their effect on agricultural biodiversity, ecosystem health and human health is somewhat well documented, mutagenic plants and their role on human food systems is less well known, with one journalist writing "Though poorly known, radiation breeding has produced thousands of useful mutants and a sizable fraction of the world’s crops...including varieties of rice, wheat, barley, pears, peas, cotton, peppermint, sunflowers, peanuts, grapefruit, sesame, bananas, cassava and sorghum." In Canada crops generated by mutation breeding face the same regulations and testing as crops obtained by genetic engineering. Mutagenic varieties tend to be made freely available for plant breeding, in contrast to many commercial plant varieties or germplasm that increasingly have restrictions on their use such as terms of use, patents and proposed Genetic user restriction technologies and other intellectual property regimes and modes of enforcement.

Unlike genetically modified crops, which typically involve the insertion of one or two target genes, plants developed via mutagenic processes with random, multiple and unspecific genetic changes have been discussed as a concern but are not prohibited by any nation's organic standards. Reports from the US National Academy of Sciences state that there is no scientific justification for regulating genetic engineered crops while not doing so for mutation breeding crops.

Somewhat controversially, several organic food and seed companies promote and sell certified organic products that were developed using both chemical and nuclear mutagenesis. Several certified organic brands, whose companies support strict labeling or outright bans on GMO-crops, market their use of branded wheat and other varietal strains which were derived from mutagenic processes without any reference to this genetic manipulation. These organic products range from mutagenic barley and wheat ingredient used in organic beers to mutagenic varieties of grapefruits sold directly to consumers as organic.

§Mutagenic varietals

Mutation breeding


  • Osa Gold Pear

 United States

  • Rio Star Grapefruit
  • Todd’s Mitcham Peppermint (Verticillium wilt tolerance)
  • Murray Mitcham Peppermint (Verticillium wilt tolerance)
  • Calrose 76 Rice (short height rice induced with gamma rays)

 People's Republic of China

  • Purple Orchard 3 Sweet potato
  • Zhefu 802 (rice mutant)
  • 26Zhaizao (indica rice mutant created with gamma rays)


  • PNR-381 Rice
  • Sharbati Sonora wheat
  • ‘MUM 2’, ‘BM 4’, ‘LGG 407’, ‘LGG 450’, ‘Co4’, ‘Dhauli’ (TT9E), ‘Pant moong-1’ blackgram (YMC, (Yellow mosaic virus) resistance)


  • Creso wheat


  • Basmati 370 (short height rice mutant)
  • NIAB-78 (high yielding, heat tolerant, early maturing cotton mutant)
  • CM-72 (high yielding, blight resistant, desi type chickpea mutant created with 150 Gy of gamma rays)
  • NM-28 (short height, uniform and ealry maturing, high seed yield mungbean mutant)
  • NIAB Masoor 2006 (early maturing, high yield, resistant to disease lentil mutant created with 200 Gy of radiation)


  • UNA La Molina 95 (barley mutant developed in 1995 for growing above 3,000 m)
  • Centenario (Amarinth "kiwicha" mutant developed in 2006 with high quality grain and exported as a certified organic product)
  • Centenario II (barley mutant developed in 2006 also for growing in the Andean highlands with high yield, high quality flour and tolerance to hail)


  • RD16 and RD6 (aromatic indica rice mutant created with gamma rays)

 Czech Republic

  • Diamant barley (high yield, short height mutant created with X-Rays)

 United Kingdom

  • Golden Promise barley (semi-dwarf, salt tolerant mutant created with gamma rays) Is used to make beer and whisky


  • VND 95-20, VND-99-1 and VN121 (rice mutants developed to give increased yield, improved quality, resistance to disease and pests)
  • DT84, DT96, DT99 and DT 2008 (soybean mutants developed using gamma rays to grow three crops a year, tolerance to heat and cold and resistance to disease)

In 2014, it was reported that 17 rice mutant variatals, 10 soybean, two maize and one chrysanthemum mutant variatals had been officially released to Vietnamese farmers. 15% of rice and 50% of soybean was produced from mutant variatels.

§Release by nation

As of 2011 the percentage of all mutagenic varietals released globally, by country, were:

  • (25.2%)  People's Republic of China
  • (15.0%)  Japan
  • (11.5%)  India
  • (6.7%)  Russia
  • (5.5%)  Netherlands
  • (5.3%)  Germany
  • (4.3%)  United States
  • (2.4%)  Bulgaria
  • (1.7%)  Vietnam
  • (1.4%)  Bangladesh

§See also

Mutation breeding
  • Atomic gardening


Mutation breeding

§External links

  • Institute of Radiation Breeding
  • The FAO/IAEA Programme’s Database of Mutation Enhanced Technologies for Agriculture (META)

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