Plant breeding has for a long time been focussed on developing types better suited for satisfying agricultural needs for food and nutrition, and even for clothing, fuel, drugs and aesthetically pleasing ornamentals.  Improved materials have led to increased yields, better varieties for new agricultural areas, better agronomic and horticultural characteristics, varieties resistant to heat, cold, or drought and improved quality of agricultural products. Much has been achieved through classical breeding made possible by the application of Mendelian and statistical genetics.  Genetic improvement has taken on a complex dimension of the interrelationships of genes, crops and the environment and/or issues of genetic resources ownership, access and equity.  Biotechnology that makes it possible for rapid genetic manipulation brings with it intellectual property concerns.  Complete sequencing of several plant genomes has provided immense genetic information that needs to be harnessed to contribute towards improving crops. All these have changed the face of plant breeding with implications on global trade, third world poverty and food security. 


The dynamism must urgently be captured by applying strategic capacity building for the benefit of agricultural development of the country. In light of the above, the Plant Breeding and Biotechnology programme is thus tailored to remain versatile to the changing times by incorporating industry focused content and modern student centered delivery methods. The programme content and mode of delivery is structured to meet the students’ aspirations and to expose the students to the job market opportunities and the emerging advances in the field of plant breeding, applied genetics and biotechnology. More over, the programme is structured in such a way as to fit more library time, self-study and part-time learning where full time undertaking is not possible.


The objectives of this programme are therefore: -

(i)         To produce graduates with ability to identify research imperatives in plant breeding and biotechnology, design and execute plant breeding research projects aimed at solving the problems within a changing agricultural environment

(ii)        To train highly skilled plant breeders and plant biotechnologists who will help optimise the country’s ability to attain food security and better nutrition while improving agriculture-based incomes       from improved products and maintaining the natural resource base.



The common regulations for the Master’s degree of the University of Nairobi and Faculty

of Agriculture shall apply. 

2.1              A holder of a degree with at least Upper Second Class Honours in Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, Horticulture, Botany and Zoology, Environmental Sciences, Forestry, or related plant science degree or Bachelor of Education in Science with Botany and Zoology option and any other relevant subject from the University of Nairobi or any other institution recognized by Senate.

2.2              Holders of a degree with at least Lower Second Class Honours in any of the degrees specified in (2.1) above with  two years of relevant experience or a postgraduate diploma in (2.1) above or equivalent qualification from the University of Nairobi or any other institution recognised by Senate.

2.3              Holders of a pass Bachelor’s degree in disciplines specified in (2.1) above and a postgraduate diploma or its equivalent from the University of Nairobi or any other institution recognized by the senate.

2.4              Holders of a pass degree in the disciplines specified in (2.1) above with at least five years relevant work experience




3.1 A candidate may be exempted from taking some course units and be allowed to transfer credits of the same up to a maximum of one third (⅓) of the taught units provided that these are from institutions recognized by the University of Nairobi Senate.

3.2 A candidate seeking transfer of credit shall send a formal application to the Board of Postgraduate Studies, through the Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, justifying and supporting the request.

3.3 Transfer of credits shall be processed only after payment of the prescribed non-refundable fees.



The programme will be offered as full time, part time and through Open, Distance and Electronic Learning (ODEL) for students who cannot attend regular University programmes.

4.1  Full-Time

4.1.1        The degree program shall consist of coursework, examinations and thesis.

4.1.2        The course shall cover a minimum of 4 semesters and a maximum of 8 semesters and each semester will be 15 weeks.

4.1.3        Each candidate will be required to take and pass all courses.

4.1.4        Each candidate will be required to undertake a research project leading to an examinable thesis. The choice of the thesis research topic shall be made in consultation with the department and the academic supervisor.

4.1.5        Each course unit shall have 45 hours covered in one semester.

4.2. Part time

As in 4.1 above in addition to the following:

4.2.1        The course shall cover a minimum of 4 semesters and a maximum of 8 semesters and each semester will be 15 weeks.

4.2.2        A student shall be required to take a minimum of two and a maximum of four courses in one semester.

4.3. Open, Distance and e-Learning

The Open, Distance and e-Learning programme will run for a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 8 semesters of 15 weeks each. The minimum calendar years for completion of the programme shall be 2 years and a maximum of 4 years. The minimum course load per semester will be 2 course units


The mode of delivery will be through open and distance learning modes involving largely home and/ or office-based media:

4.3.1        Written self instructional study modules issued at registration time

i.                    Study course materials like booklets

ii.                  Relevant literature

iii.                Interactive devices and self tests

4.3.2        Face to face introductory tutorials

4.3.3        Mediated technical learning materials for example:-

i.                    Audio visual

ii.                  e-learning materials

4.3.4        Limited face-to-face sessions to provide overview of the course at commencement of semester, mid semester and revision period before examinations.

4.3.5        Support study centres at the University of Nairobi

i.               Access to information through computers at the University of Nairobi.

ii.             Use of libraries at the University of Nairobi.

4.3.6        Orientation (immediately after registration):

i.                    Orientation in ODL delivery.

ii.                  Study, reading and computer skills.

iii.                Time management and techniques of handling assignments.

iv.                Mentorship, guidance and counselling.

v.                  Emphasis is on satellite centres that serve as a link between the University and the student in the following manner: registration, collecting reading materials, collecting results and programmes, examination information, posting timetable and holding meetings.



Course code

Course title



ACS 600

Biometrics for Agricultural Sciences



ACS 601

Advanced Plant Physiology and Metabolism



ACS 603

Crop Pest management



ACS 604

Seed Science and Technology



ACP 612

Research Methods and Scientific communication



ACP 610

Entrepreneurship in Agriculture



ACB 601

Molecular Genetics and Bioinformatics



ACB 602

Biotechnology, Cytogenetics and Mutation Breeding



ACB 603

Biometrical Genetics 



ACB 604

Advanced Plant Breeding



ACB 605

Breeding East African Crops



ACB 606

Breeding for Biotic and Abiotic Stresses



ACB 607












6.1. Written examinations

6.1.1        Each course shall be examined by a written paper lasting three hours at the end of each semester in which the course is given.

6.1.2        The coursework assessment shall account for 30% and written examinations for 70% of the final mark.

6.1.3        The pass mark for each course shall be 50 %.

6.1.4        The grading of the courses shall be as follows:

A = 70% and above;

B = 60 – 69%;

C = 50 -59%;

D = 0 – 49% (fail)

6.1.5        A candidate who fails in any paper may, on the recommendation of the Board of Examiners, and approval by the Senate be allowed to take up to two supplementaries in failed papers after paying the appropriate fees.

6.1.6        A candidate who fails in the second supplementary or fails to complete the programme in the prescribed maximum duration of 8 semesters shall, on the recommendation of the Board of Examiners and approval by the Senate, be discontinued.

6.1.7        The mark for a supplementary paper shall be recorded as 50% in the candidate’s academic record.

6.2. Thesis examination

6.2.1        Each student shall present a seminar on the thesis research proposal.

6.2.2        Each candidate shall submit for examination a thesis, with the approval of the academic supervisors, at the end of the final semester. The thesis shall be examined in accordance with the common regulations of the University of Nairobi.

6.2.3        A candidate who fails in the thesis examination may on the recommendation of the Faculty Board of examiners be allowed to resubmit the thesis within six months up to a maximum of two times.

6.2.4        A candidate who fails after the second resubmission or fails to complete the course in the prescribed period shall, on the recommendation of the Faculty Board and approval by Senate, be discontinued.



Candidates who satisfy the examiners in all written and thesis examinations shall be awarded a Master of Science degree in Plant Breeding and Biotechnology.





ACS 600: Biometrics for Agricultural Sciences

Review of descriptive statistics and basic inference.  Overview of sampling concepts: simple random sampling and proportional sampling. The concept of power and sample size determination.  Principles of experimental design: randomization, replication, error control. Modelling: translating study designs into statistical models considering both treatment and blocking structure; assumptions underlying a model; approaches to model fitting; correct handling of continuous and factor explanatory variables; data analysis, presentation and interpretation of coefficients and model output; Techniques for generalized linear models. Principles of survey and questionnaire design.


ACS 601: Advanced Plant Physiology and Metabolism

Structure and function of plant cell.  Photosynthesis. Respiration: function, conversion efficiency, alternative pathways, important factors. Lipid and protein metabolism. Plant water relations. Transpiration and implications in crop production. Translocation. Stress physiology (drought, heat, flooding, salinity, acidity). Plant development and regulation. Plant nutrients. Nitrogen metabolism. Secondary metabolites their nature, structure and function in key East African crops. Research methods in plant physiology for crop productivity. Use of transgenic plants and metabolic engineering to analyse plant metabolism. Techniques in modern crop physiology.


ACS 603: CROP pest Management

Overview of weed science and management; Weed management and crop quality and environmental implications; Invasive weed species, origin, spread and their management; Climatic change and weed species dynamics; Biotechnology issues in weed science genetically modified organisms (GMOs, resistance, genetic pollution), Weed-crop interference, competition and allelopathy, Research methods. Economic importance and losses caused by plant diseases and insect pests. Disease causal pathogens and other agents; isolation and identification techniques; symptoms and effects on plants and produce; disease epidemiology. Principles of disease management. Insect classification and identification; crop pests and their management. Environmental considerations in crop protection.



Crop seed as a basis of crop production;Types of seed, asexual and sexual. Seed biology, morphology, anatomy, physiology, seed dormancy, Crop seed environment: Micro- and macro aspects of water, air/wind temperature, radiation, and relative humidity on crop seed yield in relation to seed quality. Above and below ground management of controllable and natural factors in seed production. Husbandry and harvesting of seed crops.  Processing practices, harvesting, cleaning, drying, conditioning, storage and seed testing protocols. Variety development and release. Formal and informal seed production and delivery systems. Seed health and quality standards. Seed packaging, labelling and marketing. Legislative control of seed industry including registration, inspection and certification. Role of private and public agencies in seed industry.Plant breeders rights and intellectual property rights and benefit sharing. Synthetic seed, transgenic seed and biosafety protocols.


ACP 612: Research Methods and Scientific Communication

Research process: problem analysis, literature review, developing the research question, hypotheses and objectives; understanding outputs/outcomes/impact; log frames and budget planning; research quality control including protocol development and critical review of research instruments such as questionnaires, field manuals, debriefing documents. Data management: disciplined use of spreadsheets for data entry, data validation, audit trails and archiving.  Scientific communication: thesis, scientific papers, power point slides, technical reports, posters, brochures, videos, policy briefs and press releases.


ACP 610: Entrepreneurship in Agriculture

The entrepreneurial perspective: nature and importance of entrepreneurs; entrepreneurial opportunities; creating and starting a venture: creativity and business idea, legal issues for entrepreneurs, the business plan; financing the new venture: sources of capital, informal risk capital and venture capital; managing, growing and ending the new venture: new venture expansion strategies and issues, going public, ending the venture; records in business management.



Genetics systems of eukaryotes, prokayotes and viruses.  Development and physiological genetics. Recombinant DNA technology; methods of creating recombinant molecules, isolation of cloned genes, tumour viruses, movable genes, viral vectors; genetic engineering of plants.  Application of biotechnology techniques in crop improvement. Genome, proteome, epigenome. Linkage mapping, cross-overs, repulsion and coupling phases, interference and coincidence, recombination frequencies, genetic mapping; mapping functions; mapping populations, lod score; linkage disequilibrium, two point and three point crosses. Molecular markers; RAPDs, RFLPs, SSR, AFLP, ESTs. QTL analysis and mapping. Marker assisted selection, foreground and background selection. DNA sequencing theory. Analysis of gene expression transcript profiling; microarrays.Bioinformatics; Gene families; genome analysis; identification of introns/exons; genome analysis tools and automation, measuring biodiversity. Analysis of protein expression, prediction of protein structure, comparative genomics, sequence alignment and comparisons.



Principles of plant biotechnology; DNA and RNA structure and function; DNA replication; central dogma of molecular biology, genetic code, transcription and translation. Protein synthesis, molecular biology tools, principles of gene transfer in plants-Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Restriction enzyme digestion, cloning, molecular tools, agarose electrophoresis and PCR. Genetically mordified foods; social and ethical issues in biotechnology. Recombinant DNA technology, plant molecular biology, plant cell and tissue culture, techniques of genetic analysis at molecular and organism level including segregation, cytogenesis, linkage, transformation, gene expression and analysis of transgenic plants. Current issues in biotechnology; applications of biotechnology in crop production.Variants in chromosome structure; pairing, recombination, inversions, translocations, duplications. Specialised chromosomes; isochromosomes, telocentric, ring and B chromosomes. Variation in chromosome number: types of polyploidy, aneuploidy, euploidy and their use in plant breeding. Special cytogenic systems. Variation in chromosome types: polyteny vs endopolyploidy, puffing, super chromosomes, somatic synapsis and lambrush chromosomes. Variation in chromosome function and movement including somatic segregation, variation in mitosis; variations in meiosis including preferential segregation of chromosomes. Extrachromosomal inheritance: plastids, mitochondria, intracellular symbionts, plasmids, episomes and transposable elements. Cytogenetics of coffee, cotton, citrus, cassava, brassicas, potato, pyrethrum, wheat, barley and maize.



Principles of population genetics: Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. Factors influencing genetic equilibrium including multiple allelic systems, sex linkage, polyploidy, mating systems, mutation, migration and selection. Genetic fitness in relation to natural  and zygotic selection. Nature and types of natural selection. Inbreeding depression and inbreeding coefficient. Measuring genetic variation in populations. Application of molecular techniques in population genetics. Evolutionary genetics. Basic concepts of statistical genetics. Inheritance of quantitative traits. Nature and properties of polygenic inheritance. Expression of quantitative traits. Factors influencing response to selection. Heritability and its estimation. Partitioning phenotypic variance. Relationship among continuous variation, genetic variation and heritability. Estimation of components of genetic variance and covariance: parent-offspring, half-sibs and full-sibs, mating design I, II and III and their analysis. Diallel crossing systems and their analyses. Genotype x environment interactions. Heterosis and inbreeding depression. Genetic basis of heterosis.



The art and science of plant breeding. Objectives of modern plant breeding.  Strategy of plant breeding. Genetic basis for breeding self-pollinated crops.  Pure line and mass selection. Selection procedures following hybridisation: pedigree, bulk population and backcross breeding methods. Choice of parents and breeding method. Single seed descent method and its modifications.  Doubled haploid procedure.  Gamete selection for multiple constraints. Genetic basis for breeding cross-pollinated crops.  Gene frequencies, response to selection, inbreeding depression and heterosis. Production and evaluation of hybrid varieties.  Recurrent selection methods.  Principles of breeding clonally propagated crops. Special  techniques in breeding horticultural crops including clonal propagation, embryo culture, anther culture, somaclonal variation, somatic cell hybridisation and genetic engineering. Principles of cell and plant tissue culture. Principles and application of marker assisted breeding. Participatory plant breeding including formal and farmer led approaches, institutionalisation and value in a breeding program. Polyploidy effects value and use in breeding.



Breeding procedures for major crops in East Africa including their origin, genetics, breeding objectives and methods and their improvement in Kenya and eastern Africa . Breeding cereal crops (maize, wheat, rice and sorghum). Breeding legume crops  with special emphasis on  common bean, pigeonpea and cowpea). Breeding fiber crops  with emphasis on cotton;.  Breeding perennial tree crops including  beverage and fruit cropswith emphasis on  coffee, tea, mango and avocado.  Breeding horticultural crops including vegetables (tomato and onions). Forage and grass breeding. Breeding oil crops in eastern Africa. Breeding major root crops in eastern Africa.  Breeding pyrethrum. Production, maintenance and distribution of certified seeds.



General principles and methods of breeding for resistance; choice of parental material, sources of resistance, inheritance of resistance, methods of testing for resistance; requirements for successful inoculation; assessment of resistance; selecting for resistance; production of resistant varieties. Major insect and nematode pests of East African crops: cereals, legumes, root crops, tree crops, horticultural crops and pyrethrum. Economic importance of pests. Genetic variability of crop pests. Types of resistance to pests: non-preference, antibiosis, tolerance, pest avoidance. Morphological and chemical basis of resistance. Environmental and genetic factors influencing expression and stability of plant resistance. Resistance to insects at egg-laying stage and to feeding. Effect of host on insect development. Mechanisms of plant resistance to nematodes. Resistant varieties in pest management systems. Mechanisms and breeding for adaptation to drought, low soil fertility including low soil phosphorus, nitrogen; soil acidity (including aluminium and manganese toxicities).



Each candidate, in consultation with the supervisors, will choose a topic in plant breeding and biotechnology for their research. Before embarking on research, the students will be required to prepare a proposal which will be approved by the department. The thesis will be equivalent to eight course units and will be undertaken in all the semesters. At the end of the research, the candidate will write and submit a thesis for examination according to the current University of Nairobi regulations for a Master of Science thesis.