Theoretical and Applied Genetics

, Volume 131, Issue 9, pp 1807–1823 | Cite as

From zero to hero: the past, present and future of grain amaranth breeding

  • Dinesh C. JoshiEmail author
  • Salej Sood
  • Rajashekara Hosahatti
  • Lakshmi Kant
  • A. Pattanayak
  • Anil Kumar
  • Dinesh Yadav
  • Markus G. StetterEmail author


Key message

Grain amaranth is an underutilized crop with high nutritional quality from the Americas. Emerging genomic and biotechnological tools are becoming available that allow the integration of novel breeding techniques for rapid improvement of amaranth and other underutilized crops.


Out of thousands of edible plants, only three cereals—maize, wheat and rice—are the major food sources for a majority of people worldwide. While these crops provide high amounts of calories, they are low in protein and other essential nutrients. The dependence on only few crops, with often narrow genetic basis, leads to a high vulnerability of modern cropping systems to the predicted climate change and accompanying weather extremes. Broadening our food sources through the integration of so-called orphan crops can help to mitigate the effects of environmental change and improve qualitative food security. Thousands of traditional crops are known, but have received little attention in the last century and breeding efforts were limited. Amaranth is such an underutilized pseudocereal that is of particular interest because of its balanced amino acid and micronutrient profiles. Additionally, the C4 photosynthetic pathway and ability to withstand environmental stress make the crop a suitable choice for future agricultural systems. Despite the potential of amaranth, efforts of genetic improvement lag considerably behind those of major crops. The progress in novel breeding methods and molecular techniques developed in model plants and major crops allow a rapid improvement of underutilized crops. Here, we review the history of amaranth and recent advances in genomic tools and give a concrete perspective how novel breeding techniques can be implemented into breeding programs. Our perspectives are transferable to many underutilized crops. The implementation of these could improve the nutritional quality and climate resilience of future cropping systems.



We thank David Brenner and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments that improved the manuscript. The small millets and underutilized crops breeding project of DCJ was supported by Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi. MGS acknowledges the support by Grant STE 2654/1-1 of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).

Author contribution statement

DCJ and MGS conceived the idea, coordinated the manuscript layout and wrote the article. SS and RH wrote the section on nutraceutical value of amaranth and drafted Table 1. LK and AP improved the manuscript and provided revisions to the different sections of the manuscript. AK and DY improved the manuscript and provided inputs for the genomics and molecular breeding section. All the authors have read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vivekananda Institute of Hill AgricultureIndian Council of Agricultural ResearchAlmoraIndia
  2. 2.Central Potato Research InstituteIndian Council of Agricultural ResearchShimlaIndia
  3. 3.Department of Molecular Biology & Genetic Engineering, College of Basic Sciences & HumanitiesG. B. Pant University of Agriculture and TechnologyPantnagarIndia
  4. 4.Department of BiotechnologyDeen Dayal Upadhyay Gorakhpur UniversityGorakhpurIndia
  5. 5.Department of Plant Sciences and Center for Population BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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