This month, LivRio is please to present the latest news from the breeder E.G. Hill.
The E.G. Hill Company based out of Richmond, Indiana, has been breeding roses since the late 1800s. Several years ago, they moved their programs of crosses, seed germination, and initial selection to Ecuador, as they found that the general conditions were more constant than most any other high-altitude tropical area in the world.
The main challenges in breeding roses in the high-altitude tropics have to do with not being able to control the climate; heating reduces humidity and thereby condensation, so botrytis control is more complicated. However, there are many advantages to outweigh this, including the direct observation of disease-resistance, productivity, flower head size, stem length, foliage, and opening.
E.G. Hill is currently in the process of collecting roses that grow with no special care and can survive on their own. These can bring disease resistance and other benefits. However, in many cases these roses have a different number of chromosome pairs, so require a lab step to make them compatible for breeding.
New Tissue Culture Lab
Along with their ever-increasing number of new codes in the selection process, E.G. Hill has set up a tissue culture lab in their Ecuador facilities. This allows more rapid expansion of selected codes from their own breeding, as well as budwood for certain commercial varieties from other partner breeders.
Another use of the tissue culture lab is the recovery of embryos from seeds that did not germinate. Rose seeds often don’t germinate after the first cold period: Classy®, the second most frequently-planted variety of rose in South America, was created from the Hill breeding program and didn’t germinate until it passed through a second cold period.
The next step for E.G. Hill’s lab is to identify different genes to be used for future processes. Their goal is to use a plant breeding innovation called CRISPR-Cas9, which targets and modifies plant DNA with great accuracy. Basically, it’s like using a genetic pair of scissors to cut the rose DNA in a specific location and either remove or insert a sequence of genes. This has huge ramifications in being able to add specific characteristics to roses, such as increased resistance or a unique fragrance. The technique requires special permits from the government, so work is being done in connection with local universities.
As E.G. Hill knows, breeding and selection of roses is both an art and a science. Their objective is to breed roses which delight the final consumer, helping make them repeat buyers. This, of course, benefits the entire chain from growers to importers to wholesalers and retailers. With their breeding programs in Ecuador, they hope to create products that will be in high demand for many years to come.