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VI. New Sources of Genes

VI. New Sources of Genes

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the high-yielding capacity and globose root shape of the garden beet.

He has succeeded in doing this, but sucrose percentages in the segregates

from the initial hybridizations are significantly below those of the sugar

beet. By backcrossing and selecting to retain the globose root shapea character that would facilitate mechanical harvesting-the sucrose

percentage may be enhanced. The rapid increase in machine harvesting, which is now a practice on approximately 90 per cent of the total

acreage of sugar beets in this country, has emphasized the economic

importance of a root shape that will make easier the pulling of the

root from the ground.

2. Wild Species of Beta

a. Beta maritima L. The wild relatives of the sugar beet represent

a great and essentially untouched gene bank. Mention has been made

oi Munerati’s (1932) obtaining factors for leaf spot resistance by crossing sugar beets with the biotypes of Beta maritima that occur along

the mouth of the Po River in Italy. There is no question that factors for

Cercospora leaf spot resistance were obtained, but the breeding job involved was both long and tedious.

Certain collections of B. maritima made in 1925, usually from a

single plant or a plant colony, when tested by artificial inoculations in

the greenhouse and in field tests in Colorado, showed high resistance to

Cercospora leaf spot. Certain of these collections, when tested by Coons

et al. (1932) in New Mexico, were highly resistant to curly top. In a

few cases, a collection showed resistance to both diseases. Hybridizations with sugar beets were made and the segregating generations were

selected for both leaf spot resistance and curly top resistance. The outlook of obtaining resistant strains in this way was promising but not

more so than from the selections made from the sugar beet itself. Since

breeding work with the sugar beet did not present the problems of

ridding the progenies of multicrowns and rootiness, the emphasis on

wild hybrids gradually dwindled.

I n 1951, Stewart revived the investigations with B. maritima, first

carefulIy screening a wide selection of types to find individuals with

high leaf spot resistance. Already, plants whose natural leaf spot resistance is as great as that of the most resistant inbred types have been

found. If the genes in the B. maritima plants prove complementary, the

way is open for increase of leaf spot resistance beyond what has as yet

been found in sugar beets.

b. Other Species of Beta. The other wild species of sugar beet may

afford a germ plasm resource that conceivably may decisively affect

sugar beet breeding. Within the genus Beta, the various authors recog-



nize from 12 to 14 species. Coons (1954) has listed Beta vulgaris L.,

maritima L., B. pat& Ait., B. macrocarpa Guss., and B. atriplicifolia

Rouy as belonging to the Vulgares group. All of these intercross readily

and they are undoubtedly closely related. A second group, designated as

Patellares, comprises three species, B . patellaris Moq., B. procumbens

Chr. Sm., and B. webbiana Moq. These have vinelike growth habit, are

perennial, have monogerm, nutlike seed balls, and do not develop a

fleshy storage root. A third group is the Corollinae, consisting of B.

trigyna Wald. et Kitt., B. lomatogona Fisch. et Mey., B. macrorhiza

Stev., and B. foliosa Hausskn. These plants occur chiefly in Asia Minor,

but B. trigyna has been found in Hungary and in the Crimean Peninsula. They are all perennials and are characterized by flowers in which

the perianth is more or less corolloid. They have enlarged, woody storage roots which permit these species to withstand extreme drought. A

fourth group, Nanae, contains only the dwarf, alpine species B. nana

Boiss. et Held. Certain of these species are of interest because they exhibit characters sought at present for sugar beet improvement. Beta

lomatogona and B. nana and all the species of the Patellares group are

monogerm types. B. macrorhiza is characterized by having a very large

seed ball. B. foliosa apparently has capacity for withstanding both cold

and drought.

The 2 n chromosome number of the sugar beet is 18, and this number holds for nearly all other species of Beta. Notable exceptions exist in

B. trigyna and B. patellaris, which have 36 as the 2 n chromosome number. It is reported that B. lomatogona exists as both an 18- and a 36chromosome form. The hexaploid form of B. t r i g p a is known also from


Chief attention is now focused on B. patellaris, B. procumbens, and

B. webbiana because these species are apparently immune to Cercospora

beticola and were once thought by Coons (1953a) to be immune to curly

top, since inoculations in greenhouse and field exposures in New

Mexico failed to bring about obvious signs of curly top. However,

Murphy and Giddings (1954) found that B. patellaris became infected

with curly top during extreme exposures in Idaho in 1953. The three

varieties are reported as being unfavorable food plants for the sugar

beet nematode; at least cysts are not found on the roots, according to

Hijner (1952).

The desirability of hybridizing sugar beets with these species has

long been recognized, but the hybrids which are rather easily obtained

have not been viable, usually dying when the young plants are only a

week or two old. Stewart (1950) was able to bring a sugar beet x B.

procumbens to flower and the F, plant set seed when pollinated with



pollen from the sugar beet. Unfortunately, the plants of the backcross

were as unthrifty as the F, generation.

Recently, Gaskill (1954) obtained viable hybrids by crossing chard

and B. procumbens. The plants have come to flower. Whether the backcross to beet is viable has not as yet been determined. He has been able

to obtain evidence that, with respect to infestation with the sugar beet

nematode, the hybrid partakes of the character of B. procumbens.

Previously, the failure to obtain viable hybrids from matings of the

sugar beet and species in the section Patellares has been due to the

necrosis of the roots of the F, seedlings, the top growth apparently being

normal. Coe (1954) has developed a grafting technique, whereby the

sugar beet serves as a foster root for the unthrifty F, seedling. This

grafting technique has made it possible to grow many F, plants to the

flowering stage, but the sterility of these species hybrids has impeded

progress in the development of sugar beet types carrying the genes for

disease resistance and for nematode immunity found in B. procumbens,

B. patelloris, and B. webbiana.





Inbreeding of beets has not been a common practice in European

laboratories and, aside from the work of Tracy and the years of effort

by Deming, few breeders in the United States have made a sustained

effort with sugar beets at all comparable to what has been done with

other cross-pollinated plants, notably Zea mays. Clearly, many recessive factors are not revealed in a crop largely increased by mass selection methods. There is now increased interest in further exploration of

the genic resources of the sugar beet itself by the production of great

numbers of inbreds. A major project of the Breeders’ Forum is the production and test of such inbred material as a gene resource.

All of these efforts can only result in a greatly augmented array of

breeding material, the building stones to fashion new and better plants

in the future. We may therefore forecast very great steps in sugar

beet improvement. The obstacle to the easy production of abundant

hybrids, presented by plants whose flowers are perfect, is minimized by

the discoveries of cytoplasmic male-sterility and Mendelian male-sterility. The surface has just been scratched in utilizing these powerful

tools both in a practical way and in genetic research. There are

also great possibilities in utilizing self-fertility and self-sterility-approaches that have been opened by the researches of Owen (1942) and

Helen Savitsky (1952a) , but which as yet have scarcely been explored.

Abegg (1940a) gave a list of characters in sugar beet that had been investigated. To these he assigned symbols. The usefulness of simple Men-



delian factors such as monogermness is being demonstrated, and one can

only speculate on possibilities when genetics research throws light on

other characters in the sugar beet and demonstrates their inheritance.

Polyploidy has at present hardly been utilized with sugar beets as a

genetic tool, but it may be the key opening the way for certain wide

crosses between the species of Beta. The results from European work

that are beginning to come in concerning the productiveness of triploids,

certainly demand thoroughgoing exploration with American varieties.

As indicated, the research in the United States has simply shown that

polyploidy itself is not an automatic way whereby production may be

increased. The finding of highly productive polyploids and their use,

either as tetraploids or as triploids, have not thoroughly covered the

possibilities in this field of research.

The control of certain serious diseases by resistant varieties, although affording a fair measure of assurance against crop failures, is

certainly not a closed matter, because losses are still heavy. We may

forecast that the improved sugar beet in the next two decades will incite

wonder as to why present-day varieties once were prized. As said, control of virus yellows and sugar beet nematode is still to be achieved, but

evidence given by Coons (1952) and Rietberg (1954) indicates that disease resistance breeding may be effective against virus yellows. There

are indications also that breeding research may be useful against the

sugar beet nematode (Rietberg, 1954).

Once certain morphological and disease resistance goals are gained,

or even some half-way point is reached, there remain the great problems concerned in improving the sugar beet as a living machine. There

is a job of making it a better, more efficient sugar producer; reducing its

complement of harmful nitrogen; removing the melassigenic elements;

in short, as physiological research explains the metabolism of the sugar

beet, the breeder must be ready to build on these findings. The sugar

beet needs to be improved in storagability, both with respect to resistance to decay and oxidation rate. These fields of research as investigated by Gaskill (1952b), Stout and Smith (1950), and Nelson and

Oldemeyer (1952) already are showing great promise. I n another

approach to sugar beet improvement, the results given by Wood et al.

(1950) indicate that tolerance to cold exposures may be increased, the

seedlings which have survived subfreezing temperatures giving progenies with greater cold tolerance than the parental material.

The jobs yet to be done serve to make us humble in appraising the

improvements that have been registered. The advances that have come

since the White Silesian beet was picked out by Achard give encouragement in facing the problems of the future.

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VI. New Sources of Genes

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