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Master in

Plant breeding

Next edition: 1st part: September 2020 – June 2021 / 2nd part: September 2021 – June 2022

Master in

Plant breeding

General information on the Unit

Contact hours: 82 (58 lectures, 24 practicals)
Personal work hours: 93
Character: Compulsory
Venue: Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza and laboratory of the Department of Plant Nutrition of the Experimental Station of Aula Dei of CSIC.
- Developed during the first academic year of the Master, in the middle of the second semester.
- The assessment of this Unit is made during the second semester through a written exam and the assessment of the practicals performed.
Requisites and permanence
There are no previous requisites
Learning methods
Combination of theoretical and practical classes, individual study and work, and technical visits.
Lecturers may deliver the course in Spanish or in English. In the second case, simultaneous interpretation into Spanish is provided. The documents supplied by the lecturers may also be written in Spanish or in English.


Presentation of the Unit and context within the syllabus

The first part of the unit is devoted to abiotic stress, in particular to breeding for cereal resistance/tolerance to drought and heat tolerance. As a previous stage to their handling, the physiological bases for determining development, growth and yield are studied, in order to enhance indirect selection for improving yield under stress. Resistance and/or tolerance mechanisms, adaptive traits and selection methods used are studied. Field and laboratory practicals are carried out for measuring different physiological parameters (chlorophyll fluorescence, pigments) to detect if plants are under stress conditions (drought, salinity, iron deficiency, etc.). The second part of the unit deals with tolerance and resistance to biotic stress. Pest biology and the nature, sources and manipulation of resistance are tackled, as well as the factors influencing its expression. The aspects of breeding that are specific to pest resistance and the importance of the use of resistant plants as part of sustainable integrated pest management programmes are highlighted. This second part also deals with breeding for resistance to fungi, bacteria, virus and nematodes. Plant/pathogen interaction and the different resistance mechanisms are reviewed, paying special attention to their assessment and the selection methods to obtain resistant cultivars. The third part of the unit covers crop quality components, as well as the factors influencing it. The approaches to improve crop quality are reviewed considering conventional breeding and other methodologies that can increase the efficiency of breeding processes.



Specific competences

  • SC8 Assessing the advantages and drawbacks of using different strategies and methodologies for improving tolerance/resistance to stress conditions from the perspective of improving the productivity, safety and quality of crops, ensuring the sustainability of agricultural systems.
  • SC9 Integrating the knowledge of plant physiology, biochemistry and pathology in a plant breeding programme.
  • SC10 Planning, developing and assessing specific programmes for breeding in different situations and environments, considering the available materials, the objectives set and the agronomic, environmental and socioeconomic constraints.

General competences

  • GC1 Integrating scientific and technical knowledge and applying them discerningly.
  • GC2 Performing scientific and/or technical information searches and processing them selectively.
  • GC3 Analyzing results or strategies and elaborating conclusions which contribute to clarify the problems and to find possible solutions.


Learning outcomes

The student, at the end of the learning of this Unit:

  • Knows the causes determining crop stresses produced by abiotic factors, particularly drought and high temperatures, their physiological and biochemical grounds and crop adaptation mechanisms for these types of stress.
  • Assesses possible breeding strategies to obtain varieties of superior quality, resistant or tolerant to particular abiotic stresses, pests and diseases, by selecting appropriate quality/resistance sources and the type of resistance to be developed, using adequate methods and techniques and incorporating genomic tools.
  • Understands the plant-pathogen interaction, the diverse resistance mechanisms developed by crops and the genetic basis of such resistance.
  • Gains practical field and laboratory experience in measuring physiological parameters related to abiotic stresses, in inoculating, in interpreting infection results and in assessing quality characters.
  • Understands, by means of case studies, the features determining crop and product quality, the components of such quality and the factors influencing it.



  • Abiotic stresses
  • Biotic stresses
  • Quality and added value

Learning activities

Learning activity 1: Lectures combined with case studies
ECTS: 5.8
Hours: 145
Percentage of contact: 40%

Learning activity 2: In-field practicals on measuring the physiological status of plants in variable conditions of abiotic stress. In particular, photosynthesis is measured considering different CO2 and light levels for obtaining the corresponding curves. Spectroradiometry data are acquired to calculate vegetation indexes such as NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index). Through SPAD (Soil Plant Analysis Development) the chlorophyll content of leaves in the field is calculated and the chlorophyll fluorescence is measured with a PAM to verify the photosynthetic status of plants.
ECTS: 0.3
Hours: 7.5
Percentage of contact: 80%

Learning activity 3: Practical sessions in the lab on
(1) Measuring the photosynthetic pigment content through HPLC (High Pressure Liquid Chromatography) and measuring chlorophyll fluorescence. The practical is performed in the laboratory of the Department of Plant Nutrition of the Experimental Station of Aula Dei of CSIC.
(2) Determining biotic stress, by inoculating seedlings of different barley genotypes with two strains of a pathogenic fungus. After 5-7 days of culture in the greenhouse, the extent of the injury in the leaves is measured and the genotype response to stress is determined, thus characterizing the type of resistance according to different quantitative models using EXCEL. The practical is performed at the IAMZ.
ECTS: 0.4 [(1): 0.1, (2): 0.3]
Hours: 10 [(1): 2.5, (2): 7.5]
Percentage of contact: 80%

Learning activity 4: Seminar-round table on crop protection and insect resistance to transgenic plants.
ECTS: 0.2
Hours: 5
Percentage of contact: 80%

Learning activity 5: Technical visit to a centre where the quality of plant products is assessed, such as the Spanish Centre of Baking Technology INNOPAN located in the Science and Technology Park of Lleida.
ECTS: 0.3
Hours: 7.5
Percentage of contact: 80%


Assessment methods

Assessment system 1: Written exam, composed by questions provided by the different lecturers of the Unit. The questions are either multiple choice or concrete ones requiring a short development. The exam assesses the content of lectures and the understanding of the practicals and the issues dealt with in the round table, as well as the processes observed in the technical visit.
In the written exam, the questions which are not multiple choice are marked according to the technical and conceptual precision of the answer, and to the reasoning approach.
Weighting: 75% of the final score of the Unit.

Assessment system 2: Global assessment of the in-field and the laboratory practicals by the lecturers in charge of them.
Understanding of the methodology, skill in the development of the practical and validity of the results will be assessed.  
Weighting: 25% of the final score of the Unit [In-field prac.: 10%, lab prac. (1): 5%, lab prac. (2): 10%]



Ramón ALBAJES, UdL, Lleida (Spain)
José Luís ARAUS, Univ. Barcelona (Spain)
Ramzi BELKHODJA, CIHEAM-IAMZ, Zaragoza (Spain)
Nelson DÁVILA, Nunhems Netherlands B.V., Nunhens (The Netherlands)
Juan José LÓPEZ-MOYA, CRAG, Barcelona (Spain)
Fermín MORALES, CSIC-EEAD, Zaragoza (Spain)
Rients NIKS, Wageningen UR (The Netherlands)
Salvador NOGUÉS, Univ. Barcelona (Spain)
Félix ORTEGO, CSIC-CIB, Madrid (Spain)
Roxana SAVÍN, UdL, Lleida (Spain)
Roberto TUBEROSA, Univ. Bologna (Italy)