Climate Proofing of Food Crops: Genetic Improvement for Adaptation to High Temperatures in Drought Prone Areas and Beyond


This CRP was initiated in 2010. The first RCM is planned to be held in Vienna, Austria, 2-6 May 2011. Climate change is now largely accepted as a real and pressing global problem. It has recently been estimated that developing countries will bear 70-80% of the costs of climate change damage with agriculture being the most impacted sector. The main impacts of climate change on agriculture will most probably be experienced through higher temperatures (increase in minima and maxima), altered changes in rainfall patterns (in amount, spatial and temporal distributions), increased rates of evaporation, increased intensity and frequency of extreme events (floods and droughts), and raise of sea level affecting coastal areas where large quota of cultivated land are located (intrusion of salty water). The responses that agriculture systems world-wide can put in place to cope with the expected impact of climate change and to reduce the food insecurity range from institutional and policy levels to the best management practices and technology advancement. An important opportunity in terms of technology advancement is offered by the genetic improvement of crops that can adapt to the future climate conditions; i.e., 'climate proofing' crops. Additionally, data collected from the selected crops: rice and common bean during the course of the CRP may be useful for a study of mathematical models for responses to high temperature in association with AquaCrop - FAO.

This CRP will focus on improving the grain yields of rice (cereals) and common bean (legumes), two essential staples in the diets of millions of impoverish and vulnerable populations, to high temperature stress in the face of climate change. The approach is to use (1) the whole plant (2) gene expression markers and (3) physiological/biochemical responses to high temperature to identify valuable germplasm.

  • Exploit genetic diversity (existing mutated populations, M2 and up) to assess tolerance to high temperature in terms of yield and yield components.
  • Analyse and exploit mutations in functional genomics using molecular tools such as positional cloning of critical genes, whole genome sequencing projects, SNP diversity analysis, global genomes expression analysis, and associated bioinformatics tools to evaluate large datasets and visualize metabolic pathways affected by stresses and/or genotypes.
  • Apply existing tools to characterize physiological and biochemical responses to high temperature on nodulation/nitrogen fixation and/or water use efficiency by application of stable isotope techniques.

Overall objective:

To identify high yielding food crop germplasm contributing to sustainable food security (with a focus on a major cereal - rice and a grain legume - common bean) with improved resource use efficiency (water and nitrogen) and adaptation to high temperatures (increased minima and maxima) as anticipated by climate change and variability for the next 20 to 40 years.

Specific objectives:

  • To explore whole plant genetic variability and identify high yielding genotypes from existing natural and mutated germplasm of cereals (preferably rice) and nitrogen fixing grain legumes (preferably common bean) for adaptation to high temperature; establishing robust experimental protocols for physiological, genetic and molecular studies; use advanced biotechnology, bioinformatics and genomics tools for whole plant analysis and data visualization.
  • To facilitate technology transfer, sharing of genetic and knowledge resources (through electronic means, peer reviewed publications, workshops, training courses, field days) and foster networks between participating research groups and potential end users for their mutual benefit

Expected Research Outcomes:

  • Availability of advanced mutant crop resources for breeders, geneticists in National Agriculture Research Systems (NARS) in MS countries with adaptation to increased temperatures;
  • Availability of phenotypic, physiologic and high throughput genetic tools for the characterization of adaptability to high temperature together with data sets for AquaCrop modelling;
  • Successful implementation of the CRP and related publication reports, technical documents, and newsletters published.

Expected research outputs (Results):

  • Data set on genetic variability for high temperature tolerance (HTT) in (a) a cereal and (b) a grain legume compiled;
  • High temperature tolerant germplasm by (a) whole plant performance, (b) molecular marker technology, and (c) stable isotope techniques identified and tested for current and future climate change scenarios using crop simulation models;
  • A web-based platform to share knowledge, tools and technologies related to HTT in crops activated and maintained by participating members.

Criteria for selecting participants:

Projects must be built on the relevant past achievements of nuclear, genetic and genomic technologies. Based on these, the expected outputs must ensure that systems are sustainable in the face of climate change and do not adversely contribute to climate change. In addition, the following elements should be fulfilled:

Crop selection

  • Existing genetic resources and mutants/mutant products for the particular crop (at least M2 generation).
  • Existing cereals and/or legumes related knowledge base and ongoing genetic, mutation or molecular work.

Target environment

  • Agro-ecological zones most exposed to high and variable temperature as a result of climate change during crop growing season.


  • Must have the needed resources in terms of expertise (mutation techniques, physiology and/or molecular genetics), infrastructures, equipments including a sustainable national support funding for the project and an associated interdisciplinary team (e.g. an agronomist, statistician, etc.).
  • Evidence of national/international collaborative research will be an asset.

Nuclear-Related Techniques Used Within the CRP

  • Mutation: gamma irradiation, fast neutron, ion beam.
  • Stable isotopes (N-15, C-13, O-18).

Molecular techniques

  • Forward and reverse genetics using mutant population screening.
  • Extensive bioinformatics and data visualization technology.

Parameters and Methodologies to be used:

  • Cereal crops and grain legumes: yield and its components.
  • Physiological responses to high temperature using isotopes (water use efficiency and nodulation).
  • Basic molecular technologies (e.g. PCR, cloning, gel electrophoresis, etc.) and high throughput gene expression analysis of different plant tissues.
  • Bioinformatics for large scale data handling, visualization and cross-species comparisons.

Up to 10 research contracts are expected to be awarded and four no cost agreement holders from advanced laboratories with experience in the selected technologies and fields of expertise to share their experience with the contract holders. In addition, it is foreseen that two technical contracts will be awarded for services in identification and isolation of mutant genes in model crops. Coordination and technical management will be handled by the scientific secretary in the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section.

Project Officer:

S. Sarsu