CIAT and partners toast new BREAD project

10 August, 2011 by (comments)

A pioneering initiative by scientists at CIAT, our sister center the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the University of California-Davis, could significantly speed-up the improvement of cassava and banana crops, and help to transform breeding and production systems.

It was one of just six projects to be approved in this year’s highly competitive round of prestigious BREAD (Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Research) Awards, organised and funded by the US-based National Science Foundation (NSF).

NP Cassava

Cassava and banana are two of the most important smallholder crops in the tropics, but their notoriously long breeding cycles mean improved varieties can take significantly more time to develop than crops like bean or rice. Due to the plants’ genetic diversity, there is also much uncertainty over whether desirable traits, such as high yield potential, improved nutritional content or disease resistance, will appear in future generations.

To tackle this, the scientists aim to stimulate the plants to produce a protein that triggers the creation of so-called “doubled haploids” ­­– offspring with only one set of parental chromosomes. With this fixed genetic fingerprint, the offspring are exact copies of the parents, meaning desirable traits are certain to be transferred from one generation to the next.

While the initial development of the haploid-inducer protein will involve the manipulation of a specific gene in the cassava and banana plants, further breeding eliminates the gene. The resulting plants are non-transgenic, and can be easily reproduced.

As well as accelerating the process of crop improvement by scientists, farmers will also be able to use the improved crops to produce and plant their own cassava and banana seed, rather than choosing cuttings or suckers from selected plants, helping to reduce the movement of potentially-devastating pathogens.

Doubled haploids have been successfully developed to speed-up production of improved rice varieties, but never for banana and cassava. The work could pave the way for similar approaches for improving other slow-cycling, but vitally important food staples, like potato and yam.

The principal investigators at CIAT will be Paul Chavarriaga and Hernan Ceballos. Follow the link for more about the Fast Breeding for Slow Cycling Crops: Doubled Haploids in Cassava and Banana/Plantain project.

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Filed Under: Crops @en