Plant Breeding and Genetics Laboratory

The Plant Breeding and Genetics Laboratory (PBG Laboratory) is one of five laboratories that make up the Joint FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratories at Seibersdorf. As a part of the Sustainable Intensification of Crop Production Systems (SICPS) sub-programme of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division, the activities of the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section (PBG) and PBG Laboratory are aimed at assisting national plant breeding programmes in the use of mutation techniques and modern biotechnologies to develop better varieties of major and under-utilized food and industrial crops. At the PBG Laboratory, we carry out this task through the provision of services; individual and group training programmes; and through research and development activities.

Services provided at the PBG Laboratory

On request, the following services are provided at no cost to Member States of the IAEA and FAO by the Laboratory:

The FAO/IAEA mutant germplasm repository contains seed, in vitro and DNA collections (recently launched). DNA fingerprinting data are used to define and verify mutant stocks.

Training at the Laboratory

The training provided to scientists from Member State is aimed at producing a critical mass of well-trained manpower capable of applying induced mutations in broadening the genetic base of crop germplasm available to the breeder. With a high premium placed on efficiency, the training programmes emphasize such ancillary in vitro techniques as cell, tissue and organ techniques for regeneration, multiplication and distribution of induced mutants. Individual and group training courses also emphasize the integration of molecular genetic techniques into induced mutagenesis programmes in order to develop molecular tags for the mutated segments of the genome and, in turn, use such tags as neutral markers for tracking the inheritance of the mutations.

Training programmes offered in the Laboratory include:

Research and Development Activities

In response to specific problems identified by Member States, research and development activities presently focus on removing certain production constraints to rice and banana through the application of induced mutations and related biotechnologies. Molecular genetic assays are used for developing molecular tags for marker-aided selection while in vitro techniques are also used for accelerating the crop improvement process, for germplasm conservation as well as for safe cross- border transport of disease-free plants.

Development of saline tolerant rice varieties

Rice is the world's most important food crop and occupies over 148 million hectares. Yields, however, are severely and increasingly limited by salinity. Salt-affected lands make up over 900 million hectares globally and include potential rice growing areas. Improved tolerance to salt would significantly improve rice production in affected areas and thereby benefit local communities through the generation of enhanced income. One of the highlights of mutation research at the Laboratory has been the development of salt tolerant mutants in rice through a collaborative effort between the IAEA and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI, Philippines).

Developing disease-tolerant bananas

The genus Musa contains two important world food crops, banana and plantains. Combined, they are a major staple for millions of people in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa, Asia, the Pacific Region and South America where they are produced in over 100 countries. One of the major production constraints to these crops is the banana black leaf streak disease (BLSD or black sigatoka), caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis. This disease poisons banana plants and can reduce yields by up to 50%. Though chemical control for this disease does exist, the environmental implications are enormous. A population of induced banana mutants have shown tolerance to juglone a synthetic form of the toxin produced by M. fijiensis under controlled conditions and are currently being multiplied for shipment to endemic regions in the tropics. Genetic profiling of the mutants and their wild-type parent has been initiated to develop a pool of candidate genetic markers for tracking the disease resistance trait. These markers will be used in marker-aided selection in developing black sigatoka-resistant varieties.

The Laboratory produces an Annual Report which is available for downloading together with the biannual Newsletter on the Sub-Programme's present and future activities.
For further information please contact the Head, PBG Laboratory,