DuPont has unveiled an advanced technology the company said will transform seed research and considerably speed up the development of higher yielding corn and soybean varieties.

DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred introduced Laser-Assisted Seed Selection as the newest tool in its Accelerated Yield Technology (AYT) toolbox. The technology promises to increase the size and scope of the Pioneer breeding program five-fold in the next three years, said DuPont.

Laser-Assisted Seed Selection uses a 120-watt carbon dioxide laser to score a small slice from a seed to capture its genetic information while maintaining the seed’s viability for planting.

Molecular breeding techniques are used to identify desirable genetic combinations within each individual scored seed slice. Seeds identified to have superior genetics are selected for planting and advancement through the Pioneer research program.

“Laser-Assisted Seed Selection transforms our research program because it intensifies the impact of other AYT technologies such as molecular breeding by enabling the rapid selection of the best genetics for advancement before they ever leave the lab,” said William S. Niebur, vice-president, DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development. “Our engineers and scientists have come up with a truly unique technology that will have a significant impact on the rate we bring higher yielding products to Pioneer customers.”

Laser-Assisted Seed Selection is a key component in the Pioneer effort to increase the yields of its corn hybrids and soybean varieties by 40 percent within 10 years. Pioneer has numerous patents pending for the technology and will be using it on millions of corn and soybean seeds by the end of 2009.

Laser-Assisted Seed Selection is a collection of proprietary processes that includes precise magnetic-based orientation of the seed, laser scoring, seed and slice collection, advanced seed selection and planting.

Prior to molecular breeding and Laser-Assisted Seed Selection, research scientists had to evaluate plants in the field and select genetics based solely upon their physical characteristics or phenotype. Physical analysis of plants took years of field trials, thousands of hours and acre upon acre of land prior to development of a commercial hybrid.

“The millions of phenotypic points of data Pioneer researchers have collected over the years have made AYT a reality,” Niebur said. “These data points are living within a supercomputer that has decoded much of the genetic code of our industry-leading germplasm. With this broad molecular insight and AYT tools like Laser-Assisted Seed Selection, we are able to breed higher yielding products much faster than ever before.”

The development of molecular breeding techniques allowed scientists to evaluate plants based on their genes as well as phenotypic characteristics, but genetic samples had to be captured from green plant tissue in the field. Scientists recently discovered they could gather genetic samples from seeds prior to planting, but the methods of collection with a blade or clipper were rudimentary Laser-Assisted Seed Selection perfects the technique because it eliminates contamination, ensures seed viability and has much higher throughput than other kernel chipping or clipping methods.

Laser-Assisted Seed Selection equipment is compact and mobile, allowing Pioneer to deploy the technology at research stations around the world.

“It’s difficult to compare the two methods because it’s like comparing a Model T car to a Lear Jet,” Niebur said. “They can both get you to where you are going; one just does it more quickly and efficiently.”