Technological Achievements

For decades, this unique UN partnership has achieved countless successes with distinct socio-economic impact at country, regional and global levels. Its work has shown how nuclear applications provide added value to conventional approaches in addressing a range of agricultural problems and issues, including food safety, animal production and health, crop improvement, insect pest control and sustainable use of finite natural resources. The Joint FAO/IAEA programme has been responsible for many far-reaching achievements in technology development and improvement, as well as its transfer and validation among Member States. Key achievements include:

Celebrating 50 Years 1964 - 2014, Joint FAO/IAEA Centre Mutation induction: Mutation induction methodologies have been developed to treat seeds, organs, tissues and cells of plants with chemical and physical mutagens, especially the use of radiation and machine resources such as gamma-ray, neutron, and X-ray or ion-beam irradiation. At present more than 110 countries are using this technology for plant breeding. Thousands of mutant genotypes/lines with traits of agronomic importance have been developed and shared, broadening the genetic base of the pool of global germplasm.

Mutation detection and selection: New and more effective techniques have been developed and shared to detect and select the mutations induced. These have been less expensive and accelerated the development of varieties by changing single characteristics without affecting the overall phenotype. More efficient biotechnologies and high throughput screening techniques, as well as advanced field screening technologies have enabled plant breeders to develop new varieties in record time. Since 1964, over 3200 mutant varieties from over 200 plant species have been officially released in over 90 countries. Their value is measured in the billions of dollars and millions of cultivated hectares.

Radioimmunoassay technology: Highly sensitive isotopic technologies have been developed to increase the efficiency of artificial insemination and improve animal reproduction. These technologies, together with other conventional techniques, have been adopted by 60 Member States for use in livestock breeding programmes and have significantly improved the productive performances of livestock.

Celebrating 50 Years 1964 - 2014, Joint FAO/IAEA Centre Advanced diagnostic tools and monitoring tests: Tools and tests have been developed that have proved to be vital for the early detection of animal diseases, even before the onset of clinical signs. These include conventional serological and/or molecular based technologies, as well as advanced technologies with the capacity for direct field application. They have enabled Member States to achieve the rapid enforcement of disease control measures, thus reducing losses caused by animal/zoonotic diseases. These technologies have been used in over 95 Member States and have contributed to the control (and elimination) of important animal diseases such as rinderpest.

Isotopic labelling technologies for animal nutrition: Technologies have been developed and improved to evaluate the nutritive value of locally available feeds. By using these technologies, a set of nutrition feeding tools have been developed for the production of feed supplements from locally available feedstuffs, which have improved the productive performance of farm animals in Member States from 50% to 350%.

Fallout radionuclides (FRNs) technique: The FRNs technique has been developed as a tool to assess soil erosion and land degradation so that appropriate soil and water conservation management practices can be effectively targeted to reduce erosion. More than 60 Member States adopted FRNs technique to track soil movement and develop cost-effective soil conservation measures. As a result, soil erosion rates in experimental areas in Chile, China, Morocco, Romania, Tajikistan and Vietnam, were reduced by up to 50% through the implementation of soil conservation measures.

Celebrating 50 Years 1964 - 2014, Joint FAO/IAEA Centre Nitrogen-15 analytical technique for biological nitrogen fixation (BNF): The BNF is a process whereby grain, forage and tree legumes acquire/fix nitrogen (N) from the atmosphere, hence reducing the need for nitrogen to be purchased and applied to a crop and/or livestock production; the amount of N fixed by legumes can be accurately determined by using the nitrogen-15 isotopic technique. The Joint Centre has developed and improved nitrogen-15 analytical techniques and promoted the extensive use of BNF to capture more N from the atmosphere and to improve soil fertility, enabling farmers to save millions of dollars applying purchased nitrogen.

Isotopic tracing techniques for crop nutrition and water management: Procedures have been refined using the isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and oxygen and related techniques have been developed to provide more efficient tracing methods to understand the movement of nutrients between the soil and plants. This helps enhance fertilizer use efficiency, and identify integrated soil-water management practices for optimizing crop productivity. For example, the stable isotopes of carbon-13 and nitrogen-15 have been used to measure precisely the C-N interaction to optimize both C and N capture as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which accounts for 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) for agricultural pest control: The SIT has been developed to combat major agricultural insect pests that cause significant losses and affect international trade, including several fruit fly and moth pests and screwworm flies. A multilateral approach eliminated the Mediterranean fruit fly in Mexico and parts of Central America, which not only led to investments in horticultural production (in Guatemala this amounted to US$ 150 million), but also significantly promoted the export of fresh fruit (US$ 4.3 billion alone in increased annual exports from Mexico).

Celebrating 50 Years 1964 - 2014, Joint FAO/IAEA Centre Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) for Tsetse Flies: New methods have been developed to mass-rear and feed flies on sterilized blood through a membrane system - instead of using live animals. This has allowed the SIT to be applied against various tsetse fly species, leading to successful eradication programmes in Zanzibar and Senegal.

Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) for Mosquitoes: As part of an assessment of the feasibility of applying the SIT to selected species of mosquitoes, the Joint Centre has recently been developing mass-rearing equipment and quality control techniques for vectors of major diseases. Researchers have also been studying mosquito symbionts, radiation sensitivity and sterile male competitiveness.

Genetic sexing methodologies for SIT application: The SIT invariably relies on the ability of released sterile male insects to effectively compete and mate with native female counterparts. The Joint Centre has developed genetic sexing strains, including one based on female temperature sensitivity in Mediterranean fruit flies. This has enabled the separation of males from females as early as possible in the life cycle on a large industrial scale, thus saving on the cost of mass rearing females and increasing the effectiveness of the SIT as sterile males will only compete for wild females. This strain is currently utilized in all SIT programmes against this pest in the world.

Celebrating 50 Years 1964 - 2014, Joint FAO/IAEA Centre Multi-residue analytical techniques: Techniques have been developed for the simultaneous detection of various veterinary drugs and pesticides and enabled Member States to monitor trace levels of a range of agro-chemicals, economically and more efficiently. The Joint Centre has developed and transferred an analytical method for assessing the residues of 38 veterinary drugs in animal products and enhanced national residue monitoring programme to many developing countries.

Food Irradiation technology: This technology has been developed to treat food to ensure improved quality and safety, as well as for quarantine purposes in international trade. Irradiated food is now accepted and approved in over 60 countries.

Technology for nuclear emergency response: Technology packages have been developed for sampling, analysing and monitoring radiocontamination as well as the remediation of its impact in food and agriculture.