• The outstanding example of the exploitation of hybrid vigour through the use of F1 hybrids has been with corn (maize).
The production of a hybrid corn involves three steps:
The selection of superior plants;
    1. Selfing for several generations to produce a series of inbred lines, which although different from each other but each one a pure-breeding and highly uniform; and
    2. Crossing selected inbred lines. During the inbreeding process the vigour of the lines decreases drastically, usually to less than half that of field-pollinated varieties. Vigour is restored, however, when any two unrelated inbred lines are crossed, and in some cases the F1 hybrids between inbred lines are much superior to open-pollinated varieties. An important consequence of the homozygosity of the inbred lines is that the hybrid between any two inbreds will always be the same. Once the inbreds that give the best hybrids have been identified, any desired amount of hybrid seed can be produced.
  • Pollination in corn (maize) is by wind, which blows pollen from the tassels to the styles (silks) that protrude from the tops of the ears. Thus controlled cross-pollination on a field scale can be accomplished economically by interplanting two or three rows of the seed parent inbred with one row of the pollinator inbred and detasselling the former before it sheds pollen.
  • In practice most hybrid corn is produced from “double crosses,” in which four inbred lines are first crossed in pairs (A × B and C × D) and then the two F1 hybrids are crossed again (A × B) × (C × D).
  • The double-cross procedure has the advantage that the commercial F1 seed is produced on the highly productive single cross A × B rather than on a poor-yielding inbred, thus reducing seed costs.
  • In recent years cytoplasmic male sterility, described earlier, has been used to eliminate detasselling of the seed parent, thus providing further economies in producing hybrid seed.
  • Much of the hybrid vigour exhibited by F1 hybrid varieties is lost in the next generation. Consequently, seed from hybrid varieties is not used for planting stock but the farmer purchases new seed each year from seed companies.
  • Perhaps no other development in the biological sciences has had greater impact on increasing the quantity of food supplies available to the world’s population than has the development of hybrid corn (maize).
  • Hybrid varieties in other crops, made possible through the use of male sterility, have also been dramatically successful and it seems likely that use of hybrid varieties will continue to expand in the future.

Last modified: Monday, 2 April 2012, 9:23 PM