genetic resources

It's All About the Genes

I’m preaching to the choir, but to repeat for the nth time, climate change promises greater weather unpredictability and extreme temperatures worldwide. One strategy to mitigate the impact lies in mining genetic resources, gene banks and land races, for useful plant characteristics.

Farmers for thousands of years have carefully selected plants best fit to withstand the harsh environments found on their fields. This led to breathtaking genetic variety, as each field has its own unique microclimate. The resulting land races, often ignored due to their lower productivity, are an unexploited resource that could yield tomorrow’s answers. Dr. Mathias Wissuwa of JIRCAS in his oral presentation in “Genetic Resources and Abiotic Stresses” emphasized the need to tap the hidden genetic potential in land races and gene bank accessions.

Advances in genome sequencing technologies have lowered costs to a point where thousands of gene bank accessions can be mapped to find rare alleles that could enhance nutrient capture, or increased tolerance to drought. Once identified, market assisted selection (MAS) can be used to improve the crop. IRRI used this method to first identify the SUB1 gene, which gives flood tolerance, and then breed it into commonly grown varieties, creating ‘scuba’ rice. Dr. Wissuwa and JIRCAS has made promising headway in identifying a gene that promotes crown root growth to increase nutrient capture efficiency of zinc and phosphorous. At the end of his presentation, he went to great lengths to stress MAS had nothing to do with GMOs.

Oral Presentations II: Genetic Diversity

This is a flavour of one of the six presentations that occurred in the Genetic Resources Oral Presentations on Wednesday, September 15th. Genetic Diversity and Adaptation of Date Palm (Pheonix dactylifera L.) – Sakina Elshibli The date palm produces sugar rich fruits which are cultivated in arid areas of the world. One kilogram of dates produces approximately 3000 calories. Palm dates also contain a wide range of nutrients, vitamins, and amino acids. The date palm can tolerate drought, but when the fruit is cultivated irrigation is needed. Date palms are useful because they provide small microclimates through shade. They also have a wide range of social and economic values, such as a housing material. This is especially true in Sudan where this study was carried out. There is an apparent diversity of date palms (fruit shape, side leaf structure, and morphology stages.) Dates are usually divided into two groups: dry and soft. In Sudan there is no genetic characterization of morphological variability in date palms. Over past twenty years production has increased, however stresses have also increased. These stresses include: floods, spread of diseases, desertification, and drought. Propagation is also a main constraint to increased cultivation. Date palm seeds are not suitable for cloning. It is only possible for few cultivars to be cloned, leading to date palm monocultures. A high percentage of off-types increase the risk of contamination for traditional cultivars.
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