In the realm of plant breeding, the creation of hybrid seed offers tremendous potential for boosting crop yields and introducing valuable traits. However, the process of producing hybrid seed is often complex and labor-intensive, particularly in species like rice. But recent breakthroughs in the field of apomixis, a process that enables clonal reproduction in plants, hold the promise of simplifying hybrid seed production. Scientists have made significant strides in genetically engineering crops to reproduce through apomixis, offering a potential game-changer for the agricultural industry and smallholder farmers alike.

Harnessing the Power of Hybrid Vigor:

Hybrid vigor, a phenomenon characterized by the robustness and resilience of hybrid plants, arises from the crossing of two inbred parent strains. Although the exact mechanisms behind the superiority of hybrids are not fully understood, it is believed that favorable versions of genes from one parent dominate the weaker, recessive genes from the other. This concept has revolutionized the yield of various crops, including maize and sorghum, increasing productivity by up to 50% and enhancing traits such as drought tolerance.

The Challenge of Hybrid Seed Production:

While the development of hybrid varieties has proven successful in some crops, such as maize, sorghum, and others, it remains a challenge in certain species like wheat and soybeans. In rice, seed companies employ laborious methods that involve preventing self-pollination and using helicopters to transfer pollen between plants to produce hybrid seeds. This process must be repeated for each batch of seed, as ordinary sexual reproduction leads to the reshuffling of genes and the loss of desirable traits. However, these methods are costly and imperfect.

Apomixis: A Potential Breakthrough:

Apomixis, a natural clonal reproductive process found in certain plant species, presents an exciting avenue for simplifying hybrid seed production. Researchers have been working to genetically engineer crops to reproduce through apomixis, eliminating the need for labor-intensive techniques. In 2019, a groundbreaking achievement was made when a line of apomictic rice plants was successfully engineered. Since then, scientists worldwide have been striving to develop apomictic varieties in crops like sorghum, tomatoes, alfalfa, and others. The scientific community is buzzing with anticipation regarding the potential of this technology.

The Path to Commercialization:

While the commercialization of apomixis technology is still years away, seed companies are closely monitoring its progress. The adoption of apomixis would simplify hybrid seed production, accelerate the release of new varieties, and reduce costs. Furthermore, it holds immense potential for smallholder farmers in developing countries, as they could save seeds from the previous year’s crop, ensuring regular access to hybrid seeds without relying solely on commercial sources. The impact could be transformative for agriculture worldwide.

Unraveling the History and Complexity of Apomixis:

The discovery of apomixis in plants can be traced back to botanist John Smith in the 19th century. However, it was not until 1898, when Swedish botanist Oscar Juel provided compelling microscopy evidence of clonal reproduction in alpine catsfoot, that the phenomenon gained recognition. Today, over 400 plant species have been confirmed to reproduce through apomixis, but staple crops have yet to harness its potential.

Overcoming the Challenges:

Unlocking the potential of apomixis has proven to be a complex undertaking. Researchers have faced difficulties in identifying the genes involved and modifying them to enable clonal reproduction. The intricacies of plant reproduction, such as meiosis and mitosis, pose significant hurdles. However, breakthroughs have been made, such as knocking out specific genes involved in meiosis in plants like Arabidopsis and rice, which allow the creation of diploid eggs through mitosis. These advancements pave the way for further exploration and refinement of apomixis technology.


The advent of apomixis in crop plants represents a significant milestone in the quest for simplified and efficient hybrid seed production. While challenges remain, the recent progress in genetically engineering crops for clonal reproduction is generating excitement in the scientific community. The potential benefits, such as streamlined seed production, accelerated variety release, and improved access for smallholder farmers, make apomixis a transformative technology in agriculture. As research continues, the agricultural landscape holds the promise of witnessing a major breakthrough that will revolutionize hybrid seed production and contribute to global food security.

By Impact Lab