25) ICRISAT launches Center of Excellence in Genomics and Bio-Food Knowledge Center

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has launched a Center of Excellence in Genomics (CEG) at its global headquarters at Patancheru, India, in partnership with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India. ICRISAT is also announcing the launch of a Bio-Food Knowledge Center (BFKC) in its Agri-Science Park with financial support from the Government of Andhra Pradesh.

The CEG, through the financial support of DBT, strengthens 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 fully operational, is available for researchers from agricultural research institutes throughout India and globally via ICRISAT’s network of partners.

The BFKC, for which the Andhra Pradesh Government made the first tranche of funding available, will be a platform for R&D and innovation in food processing with focus on cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and medicinal and aromatic plants.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the collaboration with the Indian Government for the CEG and the Andhra Pradesh Government for the BFKC are examples of ICRISAT’s strengthening relationship with the national and the state governments in India and in other countries. “Though these projects are funded by national and state governments, their impacts will flow to all the 55 countries that ICRISAT works in.”

Center of Excellence in Genomics

The CEG is a result of a Memorandum of Agreement signed by Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, and Dr MK Bhan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Government of India, in December 2006. The DBT has financially provided US$ 1 million for establishing the CEG.

The CEG has started providing the following services:

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

According to Dr William Dar, in addition to having state-of-the-art equipment, the CEG will also provide training for building the capacity of national scientists from India and other countries. As the CEG was launched, 19 scientists from the Indian Council for Agricultural Research institutes started their training on molecular breeding techniques at the CEG.

“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,” Dr Dar said.

Dr Simon Best, Chair of the ICRISAT Governing Board, said that the CEG illustrates the cutting-edge science and technology research that ICRISAT is doing to improve crop productivity in the drylands. Ultimately its research products will benefit the poor farmers of the drylands.

Dr Mangala Rai, Vice-Chair of ICRISAT Governing Board and Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, said that the premier facility on agri-biotechnology has the potential for improving natural resources management through genetic improvement of crops.

Bio-Food Knowledge Center

The BFKC is a public-private partnership venture in the Agri-Science Park at ICRISAT. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has provided financial support of US$ 500,000 for the establishment of the BFKC at ICRISAT.

Dr Barry I Shapiro, Managing Director, Agri-Science Park @ICRISAT, said: “ Food biotechnology interventions play a major role in adding value to the food processing industry. This added value can be realized if a conducive research platform is available, which is capital and knowledge intensive. Given ICRISAT’s strengths as a world-class research center, the Government of Andhra Pradesh has sanctioned financial support for the establishment of the BFKC.”

The BFKC will develop a platform for R&D, innovation, technology transfer, and commercialization in food processing focusing on cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables. It will be developed as a public-private partnership model and also backstop food processing related research requirements for ICRISAT mandate crops.

The objectives of the BFKC include:

  • Pool available technologies for commercialization and transfer;
  • Align strategically with food research Institutions ( India and Abroad);
  • Provide infrastructure and platform for innovation and research for the private sector;
  • Take up collaborative and contract research;
  • Provide knowledge support to the private sector;
  • Undertake trainings and capacity building programs for the Industry; and
  • Offer food safety testing and services.

The knowledge center will be completely developed over a period of 5 years with a total outlay of approximately US$ 5.25 million. It will also collaborate with several central and state government organizations, IITs and agricultural research universities.

The collaborations are also from countries outside India. In January 2008, ICRISAT and Crop and Food Research, a Crown Research Institute of New Zealand, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in Lincoln, New Zealand. Through the MOU, both organizations will work together to develop the proposed Bio Food Knowledge Center (BFKC) at the Agri-Science Park within ICRISAT. Early discussions have identified many opportunities to leverage New Zealand’s world-class agri science for the benefit of progressing ICRISAT’s mission and goals and significantly accelerate the commissioning of the BFKC.

For further information, contact Dr David Hoisington at , Global Theme Leader on Biotechnology.

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