Breeders may induce mutations by using DNA-changing chemicals on plant seeds, using tissue cultures or exposing plants to radiation such as X-rays, gamma rays and thermal neutrons.These DNA-changing methods cause genetic alterations in the plants as they grow.
Mutation breeding is applied to a variety of plants and food sources including wheat, peanuts, grapefruit and tomatoes. Breeders select the plants that desirable traits as future breeding stock. Breeders who induce mutations are not guaranteed plants that possess desirable traits, as all mutations are random. In some instances, breeders cross two mutated plants with desirable traits into a new breed. This technique was used by researcher Zachary Lippman to produce hybrid tomatoes that yielded twice as much fruit as standard breeds.
Mutation breeding was discovered in the 1920s and became popular after World War II as nuclear technology resulted in breeding technique advancements. As of 2015, a comprehensive database of mutant variety plants is available online at iaea.org. The database is supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The database lists mutated plants by variety name, Latin name, common name, country of mutation and registration year. The database also features an advanced mutant plant search that allows plants to be selected by breeding type, mutation type and mutation characteristics.