Plant Breeding and Genetics Laboratory (PBGL)

As Member States increasingly face the negative impacts of climate change and variability, including droughts, temperature extremes, storms and salinity, loss of plant diversity, and new and re-emerging plant diseases, one of the most pressing issues of the century is how to feed the world's population. This now exceeds 7 billion people, of which the FAO estimates that more than 800 million are chronically undernourished. In today's globalized world, with steadily growing populations and a climate in constant flux, ensuring a sustainable and reliable source of food becomes ever more challenging. Countries must deal increasingly with unpredictable and hazardous weather patterns, variable harvests and exposure to pests, diseases and drought. Plant mutation breeding offers agriculturists in both developed and developing Member States the opportunity to develop new and more robust crops and hence to increase agricultural biodiversity.

Celebrating 50 Years 1964 - 2014, Joint FAO/IAEA Division Mutation induction Activities at the PBGL are aimed at assisting national plant breeding programmes in the use of mutation techniques and associated modern biotechnologies to develop improved varieties of both major and under-utilized food and industrial crops. Mutation induction is carried out by treatment of plant parts (usually seed) to gamma- or X-ray irradiation. The PBGL provides a service to Member States in plant mutation induction and continues to develop protocols for effective treatments. New methods in mutation induction, e.g. using ion beam, are currently being investigated. The PBGL is recognised globally as a centre of excellence for plant mutation induction and over 80% of Member States have requested these services.

Celebrating 50 Years 1964 - 2014, Joint FAO/IAEA Division Mutation detection The detection of novel induced mutations has long been a bottleneck in plant mutation breeding. However, with recent breakthroughs in highthroughput mutation detection technologies, the PBGL is assisting Member States in acquiring and establishing appropriate capacities to increase the efficiency of screening for desired traits and to accelerate the development of mutant lines into commercial varieties for farmers. In doing so, the PBGL develops and disseminates simple and user-friendly protocols for the phenotyping (plant based) and genotyping (DNA based) of target traits in a wide range of crops that can be easily validated and adopted by Member States.

Current priorities are to develop and disseminate screening protocols for important biotic and abiotic stress-related traits, such as pest and disease resistance and tolerance to drought, heat and salinity. The PBGL recently generated protocols for low-cost DNA extraction and analysis, and for the screening of salt tolerance in rice and other cereals, such as wheat and barley, and is currently developing screens for disease resistance.

Boosting Biodiversity Mutation is a natural process that drives biodiversity and thus evolution. The collective output of mutation induction and detection is to provide greater biodiversity to plant breeders, i.e. to develop novel desired traits in relevant breeding materials. Typically this is done by inducing mutations in a leading crop variety that has become susceptible to a new environmental threat. This is advantageous because the desired trait may not already exist in breeding material or may be extremely difficult to introduce into elite breeding lines. The PBGL aims to speed up this process and to deliver new traits directly into farmer-preferred varieties. It is a fast, non-GMO technique to enrich biodiversity in important crop varieties.

For more information visit Plant Breeding and Genetics Laboratory webpage.