Next-generation genomics key to global food and nutritional security

(Left)Dr Swaminathan speaking at the closing session; (Right) A standing room audience listening in rapt attention. Photos: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Over 300 delegates from 30 countries worldwide representing, both private and public sector, convened at ICRISAT-India to deliberate on future collaborations and ways to integrate next-generation genomics into the future of crop improvement to contribute to global food and nutrition security.

“Making a hunger- and malnutrition-free society is the ultimate goal of every agricultural scientist and stakeholder. Next-generation genomics backed by strong technological advancements will facilitate science-based agricultural innovations such as the development of nutrition-rich crops to eradicate hunger,” said Dr MS Swaminathan, renowned agricultural scientist and Father of India’s Green Revolution at the three-day ‘5th International Conference on Next Generation Genomics and Integrated Breeding for Crop Improvement (NGGIBCI-V)’.

Genomics – or deciphering the genomic content of crop species using high-throughput and next-generation approaches – allows the scientific community access to ‘good genes’ to speed up breeding for superior crop varieties with agronomically important traits.

“It is not so much a question of more food. It is more a question of better food,” said Dr Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer, MARS Inc. USA, in his talk on genomics interventions to ensure food and nutritional security in developing countries.

In his capacity as lead of the African Orphan Crop Consortium, Dr Shapiro highlighted the work of sequencing 101 genomes of orphan crops to improve the nutritional content, productivity and climate adaptability of some of Africa’s most important food crops, providing a fundamental step in helping to eradicate chronic hunger, malnutrition and stunting among children in Africa.

 “Next-generation sequencing technologies are vital in feeding the ever growing global population,” said Dr Asis Datta, Founder and Former Director, National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR), India.

Dr Surinder Vasal, World Food Prize Laureate, in his inspirational message said: “Crop productivity is directly related with hunger, poverty and sustainability, and next-generation sequencing technologies are what will enhance global food production by increasing crop yield and reducing production losses.”

“It is important to train the next generation of breeders to deploy modern technologies for crop improvement,” stressed Dr Jean-Marcel Ribaut, Director, CGIAR Generation Challenge Program (GCP), Mexico, in highlighting successful case studies in translating genomics research for crop improvement and the GCP’s role in providing the platform.

Dr Gary Atlin, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Senior program officer, emphasized the need to strengthen the breeding pipeline within CGIAR Centers and national programs for enhancing genetic gains. “It is imperative to use low-cost and high-density genotyping technologies for crop improvement, if we are to see a food-secure world,” he added.

“The challenge of producing more nutritious food to feed 9 billion people in 2050 amid the threat of climate change is enormous. Next generation genomics is one of the ‘best bets’ for sustainably eradicating hunger, malnutrition and poverty. This powerful tool can dramatically increase our capacity to utilize genetic diversity and develop highly nutritious, stress tolerant crop varieties faster and cheaper than conventional crop improvement practices,” emphasized Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT.

“NGGIBCI-V is the largest conference in its series, successfully bringing together about 340 delegates from over 30 countries, and providing an excellent platform for researchers all over the world to share ideas and take breeding for crop improvement to the next level,” said Dr Rajeev Varshney, conference chair and Director, Centre of Excellence in Genomics, ICRISAT.

Dr Peter Carberry, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, said, “The NGGIBCI-V is an ideal platform to harness the potential of next-generation sequencing technologies in breeding climate smart crops towards contributing to food and nutritional security in developing countries.”

ICRISAT organized the NGGIBCI-V in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the CGIAR Generation Challenge Program with support from several other organizations and companies. The three-day conference witnessed presentations from 40 leading experts from all over the world, and 80 poster presentations from young researchers.

ICRISAT is one of the pioneers and leading CGIAR centers in deploying high-end next-generation sequencing technologies for crop improvement. The institute led the international consortia that decoded the genomes of chickpea and pigeonpea in 2013 and 2011, respectively. It has also developed superior lines of chickpea and groundnut by molecular breeding approaches that are now exhibiting higher yields in farmers’ fields.

The conference was held on 18-20 February at ICRISAT-India. 

Source: ICRISAT Happenings