The role of genetics in mainstreaming the production of new and orphan crops to diversify food systems and support human nutrition

IK Dawson*, W Powell, Prasad Hendre, JB Bancic, JM Hickey, Roeland Kindt, SP Hoad, Iago Hale, Ramni Jamnadass

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)
70 Downloads (Pure)


Especially in low income nations, new and orphan crops provide important opportunities to improve diet quality and the sustainability of food production, being rich in nutrients, capable of fitting into multiple niches in production systems, and relatively adapted to low input conditions. The evolving space for these crops in production systems presents particular genetic improvement requirements that extensive gene pools are able to accommodate. Particular needs for genetic development identified in part with plant breeders relate to three areas of fundamental importance for addressing food production and human demographic trends and associated challenges, which are: facilitating integration into production systems; improving the processability of crop products; and reducing farm labour requirements. Here, we relate diverse involved target genes and crop development techniques. These techniques include transgressive methods that involve defining exemplar crop models for effective new and orphan crop improvement pathways. Research on new and orphan crops not only supports the genetic improvement of these crops, but they serve as important models for understanding crop evolutionary processes more broadly, guiding further major crop evolution. The bridging position of orphan crops between new and major crops provides unique opportunities for investigating genetic approaches for de novo domestications and major crop ‘rewildings’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-54
Number of pages18
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
Early online date7 May 2019
Publication statusPrint publication - Oct 2019


  • Breeding approaches
  • Crop harvestability
  • Crop integration
  • Crop processability
  • Model crop exemplars
  • Orthologous genes


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