Molecular tools for quality improvement in vegetatively propagated crops including banana and cassava


Vegetatively propagated crops are critical for food security in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Increased and stable yields in these crops are a must to meet the calorie needs of the rapidly growing populations in these regions. The challenges are particularly urgent in sub-Saharan Africa, where rapid population growth and an alarming rate of climate change are making vegetatively propagated crops even more vital for achieving food security. The production of improved varieties that are nutritionally acceptable, minimize post-harvest losses, show tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses, and satisfy the diverse preferences and agro-ecologies across the tropics and sub-tropics is a daunting task given the biological constraints of high heterozygosity of vegetatively propagated crops. However, improvement of these crops can be greatly facilitated by new tools of genomics-assisted breeding, induced mutants, and cell culture techniques. This Coordinated Research Project (CRP) will make every effort to ensure that the existing tools of genomics for banana and cassava are brought to bear on efforts to produce varieties of both crops.

It will achieve this goal by the development of gene discovery grids, building upon the experience of the IAEA in the use of induced mutations for the genetic improvement in both crops, facilitating access to genomics resources held by advanced labs, and the development of doubled haploids and gene mapping populations. The above tools will be aggressively applied to improve the efficiency of improving quality traits, and related abiotic stress constraints in banana and cassava in active cassava and banana breeding programs in Member States. The results of these activities will also be documented to provide a proof of concept on the use of genomics and induced mutation to dissect complex genetic traits and their application in crop improvement.

Overall objectives:

The Coordinated Research Project (CRP) is emphasizing the application of induced mutations and new tools of functional genomics to solving long-standing and critical constraints of quality and related traits in banana and cassava as a way to secure their place as staple food security crops and increase their value in tropical agro-ecosystems. The goal is the development of well characterized mutants, advanced and pre-breeding lines, applicable data about genes, and a suite of genomics tools that can be combined with field-based breeding methods to increase the efficiency and reduce the time for the improvement of multiple quality and related traits in vegetatively propagated crops including banana and cassava. The results of these activities will be widely disseminated to provide a proof of concept on the use of genomics and induced mutation to dissect complex genetic traits and their application in crop improvement.

Specific objectives:

The CRP will employ induced mutants and functional genomics, at the single gene level (conserved orthologous [COS] markers) and at the transcriptome level (a collection of ESTs), as well as appropriate genetic mapping populations, including doubled haploids, to identify molecular markers for marker-assisted selection (MAS) of quality and related traits.

Long term objectives:

The molecular tools and knowledge developed under this project will increase the efficiency and productivity of quality improvement in banana and cassava breeding programmes in Member States that will in the long term lead to improved livelihoods and food security of the human populations that rely on these crops.


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Project Officer:

C. Mba