25) ICRISAT and DBT partner to establish a Center of Excellence in Genomics

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is partnering with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India to establish a Center of Excellence in Genomics (CEG) at ICRISAT with financial support from DBT.

A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) signed by Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, and Dr MK Bhan, Secretary of DBT, were exchanged yesterday at a function organized at ICRISAT headquarters at Patancheru, India.

Through the MoA the Center of Excellence in Genomics project was launched at ICRISAT. The project will result in the establishment of the CEG, which will strengthen the existing molecular breeding facilities at ICRISAT to a high throughput, cost-effective facility, which can be used for crop improvement research. The facility, which is expected to be fully operational over the course of 2007, will also be available for researchers from other agricultural research institutes.

The CEG will provide:

  • High-throughput, low-cost, allele detection platforms, to help with molecular-marker assisted selection and breeding.
  • Access to large-scale field screening for abiotic stresses, such as drought and salinity.
  • Biometrics (agricultural statistics) and bioinformatics support.
  • Fellowships and training courses for scientists and students from the Indian institutes in the use of high-throughput methods in breeding and research.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the partnership with DBT will help in improving agricultural productivity using improved tools cost-effectively. This will help in alleviating the poverty of smallholder farmers in the dryland areas of India and rest of the developing world.

Dr Dar added that the CEG will be a model of growth for enhancing South-South cooperation, since its results will be beneficial for India and other developing countries where ICRISAT works. The CEG will provide new technological options, build capacity of scientists and also accelerate crop improvement by reducing the time required to develop new varieties by half.

According to Dr MK Bhan, Secretary of DBT, the partnership is significant since it links international research and national research. As a partner, ICRISAT understands the national goals in India and also has the ability to share the products of research with other developing countries.

Dr Bhan added that the CEG is also significant since it focuses on molecular breeding techniques, which have the potential of giving returns soon enough in terms of improved agricultural productivity.

Plant breeding relies on the ability of the breeder to identify individual crop plants with superior characteristics for traits of interest. This often requires taking extensive and complex measurements of crops plants under specific field conditions. This makes the selection process slow, since the breeder often has to wait until the plants grow to make the selection. Molecular marker-assisted selection reduces this selection time, since selection can be based on DNA analysis of the plants in the lab, without waiting for each generation to grow in the field.

Cost-effective techniques based on molecular markers have many applications in plant breeding, and the ability to detect the presence of a gene (or genes) controlling a particular desired trait has given rise to marker-assisted selection and marker-assisted breeding. The approach makes it possible to speed up the selection process and to increase its efficiency.

For example, a trait may only be observable in a mature plant, but MAS allows scientists to screen for the trait at the much earlier plantlet or even seed stage by analyzing its DNA.

For further information contact, Dr David Hoisington, Global Theme Leader on Biotechnology, ICRISAT, at d(dot)hoisington(at)cgiar(dot)org.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.