A Brief History of Its Origin & Importance
By Robert Harveson*
Discovering Monogerm Plants in the Former USSR
The search for a source of plants that produced only single-germ seed began more than 100 years ago. This particular feature of sugarbeets (monogermity) was difficult to detect, as it was normally associated with a mutation in plants that have late-season bolting ability, and thus are ordinarily eliminated by natural selection. So it was necessary to look at enormous numbers of plants to find those few that possessed this trait.
The renowned Soviet geneticist Viacheslav F. Savitsky and a colleague, M. G. Bordonos, examined an estimated 22 million plants in order to find approximately 100 seed plants with a mixture of both multigerm and monogerm seedballs. By 1934 they had identified plants that produced a high percentage (90%) of seedballs that were monogerm. Savitsky began transfering this trait into commercial seeds to produce the early monogerm varieties that were eventually developed for use in the USSR and eastern Europe — but this work was interrupted by World War II.
In 1947 Savitsky and his wife, Helen, escaped the Soviet Union and came to the United States. Savitsky was hired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and stationed at the USDA sugarbeet laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was tasked with finding sources of monogermity for the U.S. sugar industry.
Discovery of Monogermity in North America
Savitsky conducted an intensive survey in 1948 and found five monogerm plants among 300,000 others in a four-acre seed field north of Salem, Oregon. Two of the plants — designated as SLC 101 and SLC 107 — were true monogerms. Seed from one of these (SLC 101) was distributed to breeders in the U.S., Canada and Europe. That one plant then served as the seed source for incorporating this trait into new monogerm varieties, and still continues for all varieties produced in the U.S. today. Savitsky later found that this condition was controlled by a single recessive gene, and had to be introgressed (transferred) into other beet germplasm before being utilized in commercially acceptable cultivars.This discovery in Oregon occurred with Michigan Hybrid -18, a variety that was derived from the Cercospora leafspot-resistant (CLS) Polish variety Buszczynsky. The Polish variety, in turn, had originally been created from CLS-resistant wild beets from Italy. It was hypothesized that the multiple cycles of inbreeding used in Italy from the wild material that was required to identify the CLS resistance was the possible reason for the rare recessive monogerm trait to be expressed and noticed in Michigan Hybrid-18.
* Robert Harveson is the extension plant pathologist with the University
of Nebraska’s Panhandle Research & Extension Center, Scottsbluff.
Impact on Beet Production
As a result of Savitsky’s stellar work, the monogerm trait has been made available to growers in the U.S. since 1957 and western Europe since the mid-1960s. It was probably the greatest single advancement in sugarbeet production until the development of the Roundup Ready® sugarbeet cultivars in the second decade of the 21st century.
In fact, the monogerm advancement was so influential and important that the ASSBT (American Association of Sugar Beet Technologists) created an award known as “The Savitsky Memorial Award” in honor of his contribution to the industry.
The Savitsky Award is very prestigious and is given, at the discretion of the ASSBT Board of Directors, only to individuals who have had a significant impact on the national and international beet sugar community.
Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower