Enhancing the Efficiency of Induced Mutagenesis through an Integrated Biotechnology Pipeline

Background:

A programmatic strategy aimed at supporting the capacity of the Unit to network on thematic areas impacting directly on its ability to deliver solutions tailored to the needs of Member States has resulted in the development of a new CRP aimed at driving innovations. The sub-Programme is in the process of empanelling the CRP, 'Enhancing the Efficiency of Induced Mutagenesis through an Integrated Biotechnology Pipeline'. The justification for the CRP, the expected outputs and the implementation mechanism are summarized in the excerpt from the project document below:

A combination of the imminent threats posed by global climate change and the challenges engendered by the ever more sophisticated demands for specific niche agricultural products dictate the imperative of 'designing' new crop varieties. These novel crop types must be adaptable to extreme and unusual weather conditions; be efficient users of nutrients; while on the other hand also meet the requirements for enhanced nutritional quality and possess those traits that confer added-value. A combination of these characteristics will attract premium prices and hence enhanced livelihoods for farmers. On account of these, current research in plant sciences is characterised by a sharp resurgence in the use of induced mutagenesis both for the upstream application of crop improvement and in the more basic work of discovery and elucidation of gene functions. This reflects the recognition of induced mutagenesis, especially through ionizing irradiation, as a safe-to-use, environmentally-friendly tool whose end results are devoid of controversies associated with comparable technologies. Induced mutagenesis effects subtle changes to the genetic make up (genome) of an individual while leaving the rest of the genome largely intact, making it a method of choice for introducing changes to otherwise elegant crop types.

The downside of this resurgence has been the obvious lack of a commensurate improvement in the efficiency of delivery levels of the processes involved. This CRP proposes to address this through the assemblage, adaptation and interlacing of novel cellular and molecular biology techniques to achieve a seamless dovetailing of validated processes into a modular pipeline. Cellular and molecular biology techniques will address the bottlenecks imposed by the need to rapidly generate large mutant populations of suitable genetic backgrounds (homozygous for the mutation events, and devoid of chimeras); and by facilitating the direct querying of target genes for changes obviate the need for field trialling of large populations. Additionally, robust; cheap and easy to use analytical methods will be 'hooked' up to these novel methods to enhance efficiency of the delivery processes. The main outputs will be guidelines on how to integrate above suite of techniques into a seamless induced mutagenesis process. These will be based on selected crops of relevance to Agency's mandates and with differing biological systems and production constraints. With appropriate analytical tools that will be developed, estimation of unintended mutation events (that may be deleterious) will form part of the holistic package to accompany induced mutants as they are delivered to plant breeders for integration into crop improvement programmes.

Applications for participation in the CRP are currently being received and it is expected that the first RCM will be held later in the year. Information relating to modalities for applying for participation in this CRP and general information relating to the IAEA's CRP Mechanism can be found at http://www-crp.iaea.org/.

Project Officer:

B. Till