Research at the Department of Plant Breeding

Last changed: 09 March 2021

Crop production in agriculture and horticulture will continue to require maximal yields with appropriate product qualities in combination with decreased environmental impact and energy input. To meet these requirements, cultivars need to have increased resistance and tolerance to biotic and abiotic stress factors, more efficient nutrient uptake and requested product quality.

Research on plant genetics is conducted on crops to investigate existing genetic variation, and to study specific characteristics of importance for further use in plant breeding. Unique to the Department is the strong link between basic research and applied plant breeding. 

Pre-breeding or germplasm enhancement research includes the following crops, of which we also have active breeding programs for some.

  • Cereals: bread and durum wheat, barley, oat, rice, sorghum, millet 
  • Oil crops: crambe, field cress, camelina, noug, oil-rape seed, turnip rape
  • Fruit and berries: apple, banana, sea buckthorn, black currant 
  • Root/tuber crops: potato, nutsedge, sugar beet 
  • Vegetables
  • Forages: fescue
  • Protein crops: pea, faba bean 

The research is conducted in close collaboration with leading research groups worldwide. The Department has an extensive SIDA-funded cooperation with universities in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. For more information on specific research projects, see the department's publication list or contact the Head of the Department Anders Carlsson or respective subject area leaders.



Subject areas

The research activities are organized into five subject areas, each with a subject area leader. Research projects often span several different subject areas.


Plant Breeding Agriculture (Prof. Rodomiro Ortiz
We do research on crop biodiversity and trait inheritance, map genetic variation, and breed crop germplasm of potato for further use elsewhere. Target characteristics are host plant resistance, competing ability, nutrient uptake, adaptation to northern climates, and produce quality. We also work on the domestication and genetic enhancement of new crops, e.g. field cress. Through partnerships with the South we carry research on genetic resources, genetics and plant breeding of crops grown in the tropics.


Plant Breeding Horticulture (Dr. Kimmo Rumpunen,
This subject area performs research in genetics and plant breeding, with particular focus on fruit and berry crops or woody ornamentals such as roses and clematis. Activities include conservation and utilization of genetic resources, as well as product development based on fruits and berries.


Plant Biotechnology (Associate Prof. Per Hofvander,
This subject area conducts research on and development of oil and starch crops with tailor made qualities for use as a raw material mainly in the chemical industry, e.g. for the production of lubricants, plastics and paints. Different biotechnological tools are a key part of this work, but is also combined with crossbreeding techniques.


Plant Product Quality Agriculture (Prof. Eva Johansson,
This subject area studies the content and composition of various components (e.g. protein, vitamins, antioxidants) in crops and how these can provide a higher quality of the end product. Research is also conducted on how different crops, cultivars, cultivation methods, and differences in the postharvest handling affects and regulates these product qualities. The research focuses on food production, but also includes value-added products for pharmaceutical, food, chemical, and packaging industries.


Plant Product Quality Horticulture (Prof. Marie Olsson,
This subject area studies the content and composition of various components (e.g. protein, vitamins, antioxidants) in crops and how these can provide a higher quality of the end product. Research is also conducted on how different crops, cultivars, cultivation methods, and differences in the postharvest handling affects and regulates these product qualities. The research focuses on food production, but also includes value-added products for pharmaceutical, food, chemical, and packaging industries.

Cultivation traits

A crop is exposed to a variety of stresses during its life cycle that can have negative impacts on yields and product quality. We study the resistance to aphids in different crops, late blight in potatoes, black and yellow rust in wheat, and fruit tree canker in apple. A long-term project at the Department aims to domesticate field cress as a new oil crop with perenniality and decreased seed shattering as the primary target traits. Identification of plant material with genetic variation in different properties is of central importance for the possibilities of plant breeding to improve crop production capacity. Hence, the study of genetic diversity for different crops and plants is an important part of the research. Identified traits are in some cases also crossed into plant material for use in cultivar development at our Department or by commercial breeders.

Product quality traits

A plant's specific properties largely determine its use. A higher content of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and nutrient compounds make crops more attractive as food sources. There is also an increased interest to use plant-based raw materials such as oil, starch, protein and fibre as replacement for petroleum in the production of, inter alia, materials, chemicals, or paints. The Department develops and studies the new oil crops crambe, camelina and field cress with custom-made oil quality for various uses, e.g. in the production of lubricants. The proteins from wheat and crambe are evaluated as raw material for the production of bio-materials such as plastics. Different starch qualities are developed in potato for use as both food and biomaterials. Research is also conducted on regulation of carbon allocation between different storage products in different plant storage tissues. Fruit, berry, vegetable and root crops are investigated with respect to the content of health-promoting substances and also to how the cultivation and storage affect these quality traits. 

Plant breeding methods

We work with a wide variety of breeding techniques to achieve the desired target properties in different crops, from traditional crossbreeding to the newest methods in gene technology such as site-directed mutagenesis with CRISPR/Cas9. Molecular tools are used to dissect trait variation, as well as to isolate, characterize, and validate candidate genes for transformation purposes. The Department has considerable expertise in the development of transformation techniques and tissue culture for crops such as potato, crambe, field cress, camelina, wheat and barley. Genomics, transcriptomics and bioinformatics are used both to understand the mechanisms behind different target traits, as well as for the development of DNA markers for use in genomic selection and mapping of genetic diversity. Another important expertise at the Department is the biochemical characterization of enzymes of interest for the development of specific oil qualities. Gas and liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry are used for quantitative and qualitative determination of oil, protein, vitamins and antioxidants. In cooperation with MAX-lab in Lund, methods for the production of biomaterials based on vegetable raw materials are developed. Target properties of plants are characterized and evaluated under both controlled climatic conditions and field trials.

Cultivar development

We have breeding programs on apple, potato, black currants and sea buckthorn for the development of cultivars suitable for northern Europe. Target traits in this breeding include disease resistance, increased yield, improved taste, increased content of healthy bioactive substances, starch qualities for different applications, long shelf-life, as well as the development of cultivars suitable for organic farming and different harvesting techniques.

Recent released cultivars:

  • Apple: Agnes, Trulsa, Lovisa and Folke (2014)
  • Black currant: Petter (2013)
  • Sea Buckthorn: Svenne and Lotta (2011), Sun, Idun, Fenja, Eir (2012) and Torun (2013).


Research collaborations

Collaborations with other research groups at national and international level are an important part of our research. A sample of research projects and some of our key partners are listed below:


SLU Breeding Network. Competence resource on breeding informatics.


CGIAR Consortium on banana (IITA), forages (CIAT), rice (AfricaRice), sweetpotato (CIP), wheat (CIMMYT, ICARDA)


MISTRA Biotech. Research programme focusing on the use of biotechnology for sustainable and competitive agriculture (barley, crambe, field cress, potato).


PlantLink. Competence resource on molecular plant sciences in Southern Sweden.


SSF Oil Crops for the Future. Research programme on developing tailor made oil qualities for various uses (camelina, crambe, field cress, nutsedge, oat).


SSF Plant hemoglobins. Research programme on developing plant-based production of plant hemoglobins.


Centrum för Innovativa drycker. Competence resource for development of new beverages.


SUSMEATPRO. Sustainable plant ingredients for healthier meat products.


Bioraffinaderi Öresund. Production of chemicals on plant based raw materials.


NORDGEN Nordic pre-breeding public-private partnerships (apple, barley)


VINNOVA Trees and Crops for the Future (TC4F). Research program and environment, part of the Swedish government’s Strategic Research Environment ‘Sustainable use of Natural Resources’.


Protein2Food (EU Horizon 2020). Research programme creating innovative, high quality, protein-rich food crops.


ProIntensAfrica (EU Horizon 2020). Initiative to develop a proposal for a long-term research and innovation partnership between Europe and Africa.


Sida Research and Training programs. Bolivia (Univ. Mayor San Simón), Ethiopia (Addis Ababa Univ.), Mozambique (Unv. Eduardo Mondlane), Rwanda (Univ. Rwanda), Tanzania (Univ. Dar es Salam), Uganda (Makarere Univ.) and Southern Africa (Univ. of Botswana).


Maxlab. A national laboratory hosted by Lund University that operates accelerators producing x-rays of very high intensity and quality.


BalticWheat Network. BalticWheat network is established by participants from 10 organizations in 7 countries with an overall goal of identifying new possibilities for promoting sustainable wheat production in the Baltic Sea region.


Scanoats. Industrial research centre around oats, funded by SSF.

For more information, please contact:
Marie Olsson, Professor; + 4640415351

For more information, please contact:
Li-Hua Zhu, Professor, +4640415373


For more information, please contact:
Jonatan Leo, PhD Candidate


For more information, please contact:
Larisa Gustavsson, Associate Professor, +4640415163