Especially in low-income nations, new and orphan crops provide important opportunities to improve diet quality and the sustainability of food production, being rich in nutrients, capable of fitting into multiple niches in production systems, and relatively adapted to low-input conditions. The evolving space for these crops in production systems presents particular genetic improvement requirements that extensive gene pools are able to accommodate. Particular needs for genetic development identified in part with plant breeders relate to three areas of fundamental importance for addressing food production and human demographic trends and associated challenges, namely: facilitating integration into production systems; improving the processability of crop products; and reducing farm labour requirements. Here, we relate diverse involved target genes and crop development techniques. These techniques include transgressive methods that involve defining exemplar crop models for effective new and orphan crop improvement pathways. Research on new and orphan crops not only supports the genetic improvement of these crops, but they serve as important models for understanding crop evolutionary processes more broadly, guiding further major crop evolution. The bridging position of orphan crops between new and major crops provides unique opportunities for investigating genetic approaches for de novo domestications and major crop 'rewildings'.