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Plant Science for Global Challenges

Tag: Diversity Seek (page 1 of 2)

Student-driven plant breeding symposium addresses global challenges in the 21st century

This week we spoke to Francisco Gomez and Ammani Kyanam, graduate students in the Soil and Crop Science Department at Texas A&M University, USA. They were part of the organizing committee for the recent Texas A&M Plant Breeding Symposium, a successful meeting run entirely by students at the University.

Francisco Gomez and Ammani Kyanam

Francisco Gomez and Ammani Kyanam, part of the student organizing committee of the Plant Breeding Symposium

Could you begin with a brief introduction to the Plant Breeding Symposium held at Texas A&M in February?

Texas A&M University is one of the largest academic and public plant breeding institutions worldwide, which trains breeders in a variety of programs. Every year, students at the University organize the Texas A&M Plant Breeding Symposium, which is part of the DuPont Pioneer series of symposia. The symposium provides a platform for graduate students to bridge the interaction between the public and private sectors and engage in conversations about the grand challenges facing humanity that could be addressed by plant breeding. It’s also a great chance to network with faculty, students, and industry representatives.

 

Could you tell us more about this theme and how the different sessions were chosen?

We wanted the theme of the meeting to mirror the university’s goal of thinking big to pinpoint solutions to modern global challenges using plant science and breeding. Every member of the committee had the opportunity propose a theme, which were then put to a vote.

Nikolai Vavilov

Nikolai Vavilov, a Russian botanist and geneticist, was the inspiration for this year’s symposium. Image credit: Public Domain.

This year’s theme, “The Vavilov Method: Utilizing Genetic Diversity”, celebrated the life and career of Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov, who identified the centers of origin of cultivated plants. We invited plant scientists and breeders who are applying Vavilov’s ideas through the conservation, collection, and effective utilization of genetic diversity in modern crop breeding programs. This year we also developed a workshop entitled “Where does a breeder go to find genetic diversity?”, which allowed students and faculty to talk about the importance of utilizing genetic diversity in crop improvement and to learn new tools to help them incorporate genetic diversity in breeding programs.

 

Could you tell us more about how you developed the workshop?

Our aim for the workshop was to engage students and faculty on where we can find genetic diversity, how we can use it, and to include a panel discussion on the challenges and the future of genetic diversity in modern plant breeding programs. As a new value-added event, the workshop was challenging to set up because it required a different set of skills to the rest of the meeting. Once we had an idea of what we wanted, we set up an initial meeting with our speakers where we brainstormed ideas. After several online meetings and e-mails with Professor Paul Gepts (UC Davis), Dr. Colin Khoury (Agricultural Research Service, USDA; check out his recent GPC blog here!), and Professor Susan McCouch (Cornell University), we finalized the structure of the workshop, the layout of the sessions, and the objectives for the speakers. We also had a representative from DivSeek, Dr. Ruth Bastow, on the discussion panel, who contributed to our discussion on future tools for accessing diversity in the future.

 

How has the symposium grown since the inaugural meeting in 2015?

Every year we want to make the symposium a memorable event, and we want other students and faculty to really get something out of it. We are learning more and more about the students and faculty with these events, particularly in terms of which topics are the most exciting or interesting. The symposium has also grown into a two-day event, with this year’s inclusion of the workshop.

 

Did you have to overcome any challenges in the organization of the event?

One of our biggest challenges was to secure funding for the event, which is free to attend. To add further value to our event, we wanted to have additional components such as a student research competition and/or workshop, which meant we had to aggressively fundraise from multiple sources. This involved writing a lot of grant proposals both to plant sciences departments across Texas A&M University, as well as to other sources of external funding.

We are grateful to DuPont Pioneer for providing a large amount of the funding. In 2017, we also received sponsorship from the Texas Institute for Genomic Science and Society, Departments of Soil and Crop Sciences, Molecular and Environmental Plant Science, Horticulture, Plant Pathology, and Biology, Texas Grain Sorghum Association, Texas Peanut Producers Board, and Cotton Incorporated. Our beverage sponsor was Pepsi and Kind Snacks was our snack sponsor.

 

What advice would you give a graduate student trying to organize a similar event?

Plan early and set small goals! Communication is key for a large team to organize such an event. We encourage groups to use Slack or some sort of team work interface. It really helped us to be in constant communication with each other during the months leading up to the symposium.

 

Could you tell us a little about your own research?

My research (Francisco Gomez) is focused on identifying genomic regions (known as quantitative trait loci; QTLs) associated with mechanical traits that are known to be associated with stem lodging, a major agronomic problem that reduces yields worldwide. My colleague and co-chair, Ammani Kyanam, received her Masters in Plant Breeding in while working in the cotton cytogenetics program in our department. Her research focused on developing genomic tools to facilitate the development of Chromosome Segment Substitution Lines for upland cotton. She is currently mapping QTLs for aphid resistance in sorghum for her Ph.D. You can learn more about the research of our individual committee members at http://plantbreedingsymposium.com/committee/.

 

How can our readers connect with you?

We have a strong social media presence via Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, where we post event videos, photos and periodical updates. Check them out below!

Facebook: TAMUPBsymposium

Instagram: @pbsymposium

Twitter: @pbsymposium

YouTube: Texas A&M Plant Breeding Symposium

Website: plantbreedingsymposium.com

Email: mailto:pbsymposium@gmail.com

Creole maize reveals adaptation secrets

By Lucina Melesio

[MEXICO CITY] An international team of scientists identified a hundred genes that influence adaptation to the latitude, altitude, growing season and flowering time of nearly 4,500 native maize varieties in Mexico and in almost all Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Creole — or native — varieties of maize are derived from improvements made over thousands of years by local farmers, and contain genes that help them adapt to different environments.

“We are now using this analysis to find other genes that are of vital importance to breeders, such as those resistant to extreme heat, frost or drought — environmental conditions associated with climate change and that could affect maize production.”

Sarah Hearne, CIMMYT

“Latin American breeders will be able to use these results to identify native varieties that could contribute to improved adaptation”, Edward Buckler, a Cornell University researcher and co-author of the study published in Nature Genetics (February 6), told SciDev.Net.

The information on the genetic markers described in the study will be available online, said Sarah Hearne, a researcher at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and co-author of the study. “Meanwhile, any breeder can contact us to request information”, she said.

“We are now using this analysis to find other genes that are of vital importance to breeders, such as those resistant to extreme heat, frost or drought — environmental conditions associated with climate change and that could affect maize production”, Hearne said.

Maize ears from CIMMYT’s collection, showing a wide variety of colors and shapes. CIMMYT’s germplasm bank contains about 28,000 unique samples of cultivated maize and its wild relatives, teosinte and Tripsacum. These include about 26,000 samples of farmer landraces—traditional, locally-adapted varieties that are rich in diversity. The bank both conserves this diversity and makes it available as a resource for breeding.
Photo credit: Xochiquetzal Fonseca/CIMMYT.

Studying native maize varieties is extremely difficult because of their genetic variation. Although domesticated, they are wilder than commercial varieties.

For this study, the researchers cultivated hybrid creole varieties in various environments in Latin America and identified regions of the genome that control growth rates. They looked into where the varieties came from and what genetic features contributed to their growth in that environment.

 In comments to SciDev.Net, James Holland, a researcher at North Carolina State University, Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, a researcher at the University of California Davis, and Rodomiro Ortiz, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences — who did not participate in the study — commended the magnitude of the study and the original method developed by the researchers to access the rich set of genetic information about native maize varieties.

Hearne added that the research team has initiated a “pre-breeding” programme with a small group of breeders in Mexico. As part of that programme, CIMMYT delivers to breeders materials from its germplasm bank of Creole maize; it also provides molecular information the breeders can use to generate new varieties.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Latin America and Carribean edition.

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

GPC AGM: Another exciting year of innovative collaborations

The content of the Global Plant Council’s Annual General Meeting was summed up by outgoing Chair Professor Wilhelm Gruissem’s opening remarks: “We have made a lot of progress and accomplished many things, but we still have much work to do”. With many exciting initiatives in the works, the GPC AGM looked back at a year of success and forward to even greater things to come.

GPC AGM 2015 attendees

The GPC AGM 2015 attendees

The meeting, held in Iguassu Falls, Brazil, brought together representatives from many of the 29 member organizations to discuss the progress made on the GPC initiatives in the past year.

                         

plantae                                                         

Plantae.org

Plantae promo!

Plantae promo!

The GPC has been working with the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) to create Plantae.org, a digital ecosystem for the plant science community. It will serve as a resource hub and networking platform, with news, information, funding and job opportunities, educational materials and outreach resources all in one place. For more information, read GPC Outreach and Communications Manager Lisa Martin’s post about Plantae here.

If you would like to register to become a beta tester for Plantae and give valuable feedback on the way the system works, sign up at www.plantae.org. Plantae is due for full release in 2016.

 

Educational resources

We also teamed up with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s Plant Science Tool for Research-Engaged Education (TREE), an online teaching tool providing everyone with inspirational educational resources from the research community. Thanks to our international members, the GPC has begun to translate these resources into other languages to make them more accessible to lecturers, teachers and students around the world.

A big thank you to GPC intern Maura Di Martino, Professor Edith Talensik (Argentinean Society of Plant Physiology/Sociedad Argentina de Fisiología Vegetal, SAFV) and Marília de Campos (Portuguese Society of Plant Physiology/Sociedade Portuguesa de Fisiologia Vegetal, SPFV), who translated four free-to-access TREE research lectures into Italian, two into Spanish and two into Portuguese.

We’ve also collaborated with the popular Teaching Tools in Plant Biology, run by the ASPB, to translate materials into Portuguese with the help of Drs Nelson Saibo, Ana Paula Santos and Professor Cândido Pinto Ricardo of the SPFV.

 

DivSeek

DivSeekRGBDiversity Seek (DivSeek) is a community-driven, science-based initiative that aims to unlock the potential of crop diversity stored in seed banks around the world. It is jointly facilitated by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (FAO), the CGIAR consortium, and the GPC.

During 2015, over 50 partners came together to officially launch DivSeek and bring together large-scale genotyping and phenotyping projects, computational and data standards projects. Our aim is to establish DivSeek as a common umbrella to connect and promote interactions between these activities and establish common state-of-the-art techniques for data collection, integration and sharing. This will improve the efficiency of each project by eliminating redundancy and increasing the availability of data to researchers around the world. Read more about the project here.

In connection with the DivSeek initiative, the GPC is conducting a landscaping survey of large-scale genotyping and phenotyping projects linked to crop diversity around the world. If you’re involved in a project of this type, which we might not know about, please get in touch!

 

Biofortification

Malnutrition is a major global problem that may be tackled in part by the development of crops with improved nutritional value. There are several international projects underway attempting to do just that, and the GPC’s Biofortification initiative was established to act as an advocate for this research, identifying gaps in the current programs and liaising with key stakeholders to ensure major nutritional needs will be met by a coordinated approach.

Last year’s GPC Biofortification Forum meeting generated a set of 10 recommendations, which has been drafted into a white paper and will be finalized by the end of the year. This document has already drawn attention from a number of stakeholders interested in working with the GPC.

 

GPC New Media Fellow tells the AGM about the GPC blog!

GPC New Media Fellow tells the AGM about the GPC blog!

 

Stress Resilience

Just a few days before the GPC AGM, we teamed up with the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) to hold a Stress Resilience Forum in Iguassu Falls, Brazil. The event brought together experts from around the world, representing a diverse range of research organizations. The three-day meeting generated a lot of exciting discussion which will be translated into a forthcoming report, establishing GPC as an integrator and facilitator in the field of stress resilience in crops.

 

Welcoming our new Executive Board

From the 1st November 2015, we welcomed a new Excutive Board to provide leadership and strategic direction for the GPC:

Chair: Barry Pogson, Australian Society of Plant Scientists

Vice-Chair: Ariel Orellana, Chile’s National Network of Plant Biologists

Treasurer: Vicky Buchanan-Wollaston, Society for Experimental Biology

Board Member: Carl Douglas, Canadian Society of Plant Biologists

Board Member: Yusuke Saijo, Japanese Society of Plant Physiologists

 

Thanks for a great year!

The GPC team

Thanks to all from the GPC team! From left to right: Ruth Bastow (Executive Director), Amelia Frizell-Armitage (New Media Fellow), Sarah Jose (New Media Fellow) and Lisa Martin (Outreach and Communications Manager).

 

Taking Care of Wildlings

By Hannes Dempewolf

We at the Global Crop Diversity Trust care about wildlings! No, not the people beyond The Wall, but the wild cousins of our domesticated crops. By collecting, conserving and using wild crop relatives, we hope to be able to adapt agriculture to climate change. This project is funded by the Government of Norway, in partnership with the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew in the UK, and many national and international research institutes around the world.

The first step of this project was to map and analyze the distribution patterns of hundreds of crop wild relatives. Next, we identified global priorities for collecting, and are now providing support to our national partners to collect these wild species and use them in pre-breeding efforts. An example of a crop we have already started pre-breeding is eggplant (aubergine). This crop, important in developing countries, has many wild relatives, which we are using to develop varieties that can better withstand abiotic stresses and variable environments.

More recently we have started a discussion with the crop science community on how best to share our data and information about these species, and genetic resources more generally. This discourse that was at the heart of what has now become the DivSeek Initiative, a Global Plant Council initiative that you can read more about in this GPC blog post by Gurdev Khush.

Why should you care?

Good question. I couldn’t possibly answer it better than Sandy Knapp, one of the Project’s recent reviewers, who speaks in the video below.

One of the great leaders in the field, Jack Harlan, also recognized their immense value: “When the crop you live by is threatened you will turn to any source of relief you can find. In most cases, it is the wild relatives that salvage the situation, and we can point very specifically to several examples in which genes from wild relatives stand between man and starvation or economic ruin.”

Oryza

Wild rice, Oryza officinalis, is being used to adapt commercial rice cultivars to climate change. Photo credit: IRRI photos, used under Creative Commons License 2.0

Crop wild relatives have indeed been used for many decades to improve crops and their value is well recognized by breeders. This is increasingly true also for abiotic stress tolerances, particularly relevant if we care about adapting our agricultural systems to climate change. One such example is the use of a wild rice (Oryza officinalis) to change the flowering time of the rice cultivar Koshihikari (Oryza sativa) to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Share the care

Fostering the community of those who care about crop wild relatives is an important objective of the project. We make sure that all the germplasm collected by partners is accessible to the global community for research and breeding, within the framework of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the ‘Plant Treaty’). The project invests into building capacity into collecting: it’s not as simple a process as it may sound. The following shows the training in collection in Uganda:

We also put a heavy emphasis on technology transfer and the development of lasting partnerships in all of the pre-breeding projects we support.

The only way we can safeguard and reap the benefits of the genetic diversity of crop wild relatives over the long term is by supporting a vibrant, committed community.  We hope you agree, and encourage you to get in touch via cropwildrelatives@croptrust.org.

To find out more about the Crop Trust and how you can take action to help conserve crop diversity for food security, please visit our webpage. For more information about the Crop Wild Relatives project, please visit www.cwrdiversity.org.

 

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