Mutation Breeding

Plant breeding is estimated to have begun 9,000 – 11,000 years ago and mutation breeding is simply a new device in the breeder’s toolkit. Mutation breeding has been used since the 1930s. It’s a means of accelerating the process of developing different traits for selection, such as disease resistance, tolerance to harsh growing conditions, and other valuable agronomic traits. It does not involve gene modification, also known as gene splicing. Mutation breeding uses a plant’s own genetic resources mimicking the process of spontaneous mutations, that’s under way in nature all the time, the basis of evolution. Importantly it broadens biodiversity.

How it works: seeds, cuttings, or the shredded leaf of a plant (tissue) are irradiated. The irradiated material is either planted or cultivated in a sterile rooting medium and individual plants picked out, and examined for their traits.

Mutation Breeding Normal breeding involves cross breeding, from the parents, through a multi-generational process that may take four to five years to eliminate an unwanted genome and develop the sought-after traits before trial crops are tested, adding more time. Mutation breeding is based on selfing mutants until the induced character has a stable expression in the advanced mutant generations.

Mutation breeding has many comparative advantages. It is cost effective, quick, proven and robust. In addition, mutation breeding is transferrable, ubiquitously applicable, non-hazardous and environmentally friendly. There are more than 3200 mutant varieties officially released for commercial use in more than 210 plant species from more than 70 countries, as referenced in the Mutant Varieties Database. The vast majority of released mutant varieties consist of cereals, followed by flowers and legumes:

Mutation Breeding Mutation breeding is built on mutation induction and mutation detection. Mutation induction coupled with selection remains the "cleanest" and most inexpensive way to create varieties by changing single characters without affecting the overall phenotype. Mutation induction involves the treatment of plant propagules with mutagens (chemical or physical). This is followed by selection for desirable changes in the resulting mutants. Breeders use mutation induction to broaden the genetic base of germplasm, and use the mutant lines directly as new varieties or as sources of new variation in breeding programs.

Mutation Breeding in the general framework of the IAEA

The mandate of the IAEA is to seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, better health and prosperity throughout the world, and thus ensuring, so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose. Its goals include:
→ To make provision, in accordance with its Statute, for materials, services, equipment, and facilities to meet the needs of research on, and development and practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful purposes, including the production of electric power, with due consideration for the needs of the under-developed areas of the world;
→ To foster the exchange of scientific and technical information on peaceful uses of atomic energy;
→ To encourage the exchange of scientists and experts in the field of peaceful uses of atomic energy.

The objective is to enhance Member States’ capabilities to ensure sustainability of agriculture under climate change and variability conditions, while increasing and diversifying crop production systems, through the development and application of nuclear techniques.

The projected impact of this approach is the efficient use of resources and to integrate socio-economic elements in carrying out projects, from development to implementation; full advantage of the expertise w/in the Organization; focus on regional concerns (as per FAO regional conferences), e.g. EU – food safety concerns, Group of 77 – food security concerns taken.

The design and formulation of projects in mutation breeding is demand driven, results based and outcome oriented. They are centred on the priority, needs and interests expressed by Member States to the IAEA. A pipeline from adaptive R&D in the Plant Breeding Laboratory (Seibersdorf, Austria) to develop technology package, through validation under CRPs before the results are implemented/transferred through TC projects to the end-user (e.g. farmers).

The aim is to foster science driven agriculture through new CRPs and new regional/interregional TCPs with the overarching theme of climate change as a challenge to food security. PBGL strengthens and promotes applied R&D through the dissemination of scientific results with immediate applicability, develops protocols and guidelines, adapts techniques and methodologies to the needs and potential of Member States. One of the pillars of the PBG sub-program in mutation breeding is to facilitate access to results and/or protocols from PBGL and services and trainings at PBGL.

In cases where an innovative technology is still at an early stage of development, it is important to be proactive in taking initiative to disseminate information about new technologies and their use through developed and developing Member States using the CRP mechanism.

IAEA projects in mutation breeding are based on the global and urgent need to ensure sustainable food security in all parts of the world, and specifically by decreasing the vulnerabilities of food production systems under climate change, which has already led to an increase in trans-boundary plant pest diseases. This includes major drivers as defined recently by the international community, which could stunt economic development as well. These major drivers include: i. climate change and extreme weather events, ii. water scarcity and land-use change, iii. loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture, iv. increasing world population and v. increasing demand of biofuel.