Background: The limited genetic diversity of elite maize germplasms raises concerns about the potential to breed for new challenges. Initiatives have been formed over the years to identify and utilize useful diversity from landraces to overcome this issue. The aim of this study was to evaluate the proposed designs to initiate a pre-breeding program within the Seeds of Discovery (SeeD) initiative with emphasis on harnessing polygenic variation from landraces using genomic selection. We evaluated these designs with stochastic simulation to provide decision support about the effect of several design factors on the quality of resulting (pre-bridging) germplasm. The evaluated design factors were: i) the approach to initiate a pre-breeding program from the selected landraces, doubled haploids of the selected landraces, or testcrosses of the elite hybrid and selected landraces, ii) the genetic parameters of landraces and phenotypes, and iii) logistical factors related to the size and management of a pre-breeding program.
Results: The results suggest a pre-breeding program should be initiated directly from landraces. Initiating from testcrosses leads to a rapid reconstruction of the elite donor genome during further improvement of the pre-bridging germplasm. The analysis of accuracy of genomic predictions across the various design factors indicate the power of genomic selection for pre-breeding programs with large genetic diversity and constrained resources for data recording. The joint effect of design factors was summarized with decision trees with easy to follow guidelines to optimize pre-breeding efforts of SeeD and similar initiatives.
Conclusions: Results of this study provide guidelines for SeeD and similar initiatives on how to initiate pre-breeding programs that aim to harness polygenic variation from landraces.