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Breeding food crops that can tolerate adverse environments

TODAY’S ADVERSE WEATHER CONDITIONS such as cold snaps, droughts and floods have been damaging the agricultural industry for the past years. According to a recent issue of the Taiwan Review, typhoon Megi, which made landfall last September in the eastern part of Taiwan, incurred damages amounting to $NT2.78 billion (US$85.5 million). This and other kinds of catastrophes are happening in various parts of the world incurring billions of dollars in losses for the agribusiness industry. 

Plant scientists have recently been pushing for the development of various climate change-resilient species and varieties which can withstand broad spectrum stresses and reduce pre-harvest crop losses.

Technological advances

Plant breeding, the art and science of changing the traits of plants in order to produce the desired characteristics has certainly come of age. Technological advances in molecular biology have proven helpful in accelerating traditional breeding efforts, which usually are a long and exacting process spanning up to 10-15 years, for developing stress resistant and/or tolerant varieties. Molecular markers make environment independent selections for reliable abiotic and biotic resistance and/or tolerance in crop plants possible. Recent advances in genomics, high-throughput DNA sequencing and phenotyping platforms are facilitating pyramiding or introgression of desirable genes so that crop plants’ complex adaptive traits in stress environments can be predicted and selected more directly from germplasm collections and segregating populations. The advanced breeding methods can now accelerate or response to address abiotic and stresses in food crop production.

In the recently concluded seminar on “Advanced Breeding for Stress Tolerance in Food Crops” organized by FFTC, Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) and the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO), 19 plant scientists from six countries (Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand) gathered in Tsukuba Japan to exchange information, experiences and prospects on the applications of advanced breeding approaches for the development of stress tolerance and/or resistance in rice and selected field crops, fruit trees and vegetables. The seminar likewise aimed to provide examples of successful breeding programs toward better targeted, more precise, and more efficient development of new varieties and identify the value and opportunity of using specific modern selection approaches in selected food crops.

Workshop recommendations

The application of advanced breeding methods as presented in the seminar, has been widely shown to be the key strategy that can be used to develop crops that can adopt to various stresses. It was also pointed out that development of crop varieties that will be productive under a broad spectrum of stresses including drought, flooding, extremes of low and high temperatures, insect pests and diseases, etc. is necessary. Based on the presentations and discussions, genomics-based breeding and recent advances in sequencing and phenotyping platforms result in better understanding of crop performance under a variety of biotic and abiotic stress while supporting crop improvement programs. Characterization of available germplasm, exploration of wild crop genetic resources, and utilization of local varieties will greatly facilitate the breeding of crops suitable to specific conditions.

On the more practical side, it was recommended that coordination of international research efforts and formation of a network of researchers are indispensable in accelerating research and achieving desired goals. There was also a suggestion to form a network of researchers to tackle and keep track of the development of stress-tolerant food crops.

FFTC Deputy Director Dr. Akio Takenaka in a tête-à-tête with JIRCAS President and Director General Dr. Masa Iwanaga (L). At the back looking on are FFTC consultant Dr. George Kuo (R) and Dr. Huu Sheng Lur, (L) Professor of the National Taiwan University.

FFTC Deputy Director Dr. Akio Takenaka delivers an inspirational message during the opening ceremony of the seminar. FFTC, JIRCAS and NARO have long been strong partners in the conduct of agricultural technology and workshops.

Delegates of the seminar on "Advanced Breeding for Stress Tolerance in Food Crops" held last November 23-26, 2016 in Tsukuba, Japan.  The seminar is a joint project of FFTC, JIRCAS and NARO.

JIRCAS President and Director General Dr. Masa Iwanaga delivers a talk during the opening of the Japan seminar. Dr. Iwanaga is also a member of FFTC’s Technical Advisory Committee.

The ultimate goal of advanced breeding techniques is to contribute to the overall food security of nations. Characterization of available germplasm, exploration of wild crop genetic resources and utilization of local varieties will greatly facilitate breeding of crops suitable to specific conditions.

Plant breeders at work. The application of advanced breeding methods as presented in the seminar, has been widely shown to be the key strategy that can be used to develop crops that can adopt to various stresses.