Screenshot of Dr Lee Hickey, Dr Bin Han, Dr Kerstin Neumann and Dr Dil Thavarajah delivering their presentations at the webinar. Photo: CEGSB, ICRISAT

Food security, health and nutrition are critical goals for modern breeding programs focused on genomics

Screenshot of Dr Lee Hickey, Dr Bin Han, Dr Kerstin Neumann and Dr Dil Thavarajah delivering their presentations at the webinar. Photo: CEGSB, ICRISAT

Screenshot of Dr Lee Hickey, Dr Bin Han, Dr Kerstin Neumann and Dr Dil Thavarajah delivering their presentations at the webinar. Photo: CEGSB, ICRISAT

Scientists, researchers and policymakers endorsed the potential of genomics and other molecular breeding tools and approaches towards food, health, and nutrition security through agriculture. In a recent webinar presented by ‘agri-genomics’ scientists working on different crops around the world, they shared latest research in genomics, acknowledging the urgency for embracing modern genomics and plant breeding technologies to accelerate the rate of genetic gains and produce enough nutrition-rich crops to feed the world.

Dr S K Malhotra, Agricultural Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Govt. of India highlighted India’s success story – of not only becoming self-sufficient in pulses production, but also being in a position to export it. Acknowledging ICRISAT’s key role in collaboration with ICAR and other national partners in this success story, Dr Malhotra mentioned the recently released marker-assisted improved varieties of chickpea and groundnut.

Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Director, Research Program Genetic Gains, ICRISAT, said, “The current COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that apart from the availability of enough food, better nutrition and health is also of paramount importance”.

In his presentation ‘Breeding crops to feed 10 billion’, Dr Lee Hickey from The University of Queensland, Australia, spoke about ‘Speed Breeding’, a set of techniques to accelerate plant growth in controlled environments. These techniques can help accomplish crossing and inbreeding in 1-2 years while it takes as long as seven years to achieve this with conventional practices, he said.

Dr Bin Han, Director, National Center for Gene Research & Center of Excellence for Molecular Plant Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, shared learnings and experiences from his work on rice crop and acknowledged that hybrid breeding may still be a quick and efficient way to generate elite rice varieties.

In a session chaired by Dr C Tara Satyavathi, Coordinator, ICAR- AICRP-Pearl Millet, Dr Kerstin Neumann, IPK-Gatersleben, Germany, based on her work on barley crop, highlighted that growth and abiotic stress tolerance are traits that are influenced by more than one gene, and the environment. Precision phenotyping in controlled conditions allows to explore trait relationship during the life cycle; also, landraces harbor more diversity for drought tolerance.

Dr Dil Thavarajah, from Clemson University, USA outlined the importance of integrating nutritional traits into breeding programs.

“The overall objective of science should be to benefit consumers and the population at large. In current situations, like COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes even more important to hasten the rate of genetic gains in farmers’ field,” said Dr Kiran K Sharma, Deputy Director General- Research, ICRISAT.

Dr Arvind K Padhee, Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs, ICRISAT, called for regulatory reforms, based on scientific evidence, for embracing modern biotechnology-bred foods. He said that greater consumer education on safety was required to dispel distorted perceptions about these technologies.

This was in resonance with Dr Sanjay Kalia, Scientist-E, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India, who stated that it was now time to use genomics to address consumers’ needs and also to preserve diversity. He said that marker-assisted breeding could be an enabler for delivering nutrition-rich food to the consumers for better health.

The “Live Webinar in the series of Next Generation Genomics and Integrated Breeding for Crop Improvement (VII-NGGIBCI) Workshop on Genomics for food, health and nutrition”, organized by ICRISAT’s Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology (CEGSB) on 14 May 2020, was the first of its kind, receiving overwhelming participation, with 3388 registrations from 68 countries.

Click here for the video of the event:


Nilesh Mishra
Senior Scientific Officer

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