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Harnessing rice genetic diversity to accelerate impact
Sunday, 2019/08/11 | 06:53:40

Rice and its wild relatives naturally contain an immense amount of genetic variation, including variants conferring superior yield, enhanced nutritional quality, and improved biotic and abiotic stress tolerances – indeed for all the major targets for achieving impact through developing improved rice varieties. This theme searches for the best sources of genes and genotypes with valuable traits and transfers them to rice breeders in a form that can be easily used to improve the best rice varieties. It focuses on the traits that will have highest impact and have proved the most challenging for breeders to date.

Challenge

Rice has almost 50,000 genes. After sequencing only 3,000 varieties, we have already found an average of 10 functionally distinct variants of each gene, and we know there are many more still to be discovered. Hence, there is an almost unimaginably large number of potential combinations of genes that need to be explored to design and develop the best possible varieties. Determining the agronomic value of each combination is an even more challenging task, because of the low heritability of most traits, their dependence on environment and management, the high cost of measuring them and the specialized equipment and expertise required. Furthermore, for some key traits, we haven’t even found a way to measure the trait effectively. The potential is huge, but the challenge is even more formidable. Using conventional technologies and approaches, breeders have barely begun to tap the potential.

 

Progress in breeding superior rice is too slow to meet the Sustainable Development Goals; too many rice-dependent people continue to suffer in poverty, hungry and malnourished.

Inadequate advance in rice production is too slow for nations and regions to meet their development targets on poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and climate change.

 

Sustaining the basic operations of the genebank, to secure the diversity of rice and make it available for current and future use.

Simply maintaining the genebank is a sine-qua-non for the theme and for IRRI , and resources must be dedicated to maintaining it. The Global Crop Diversity Trust, an international organization founded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and Bioversity International on behalf of the CGIAR, has signed an agreement with IRRI for permanent funding of the genebank.

 

Impact

As implied by the name of this theme “... to accelerate impact”, the primary outcome of this work is internal to the rice science community, both inside IRRI and outside, enabling others in this community to step up the rate of the impact resulting from their work. As such, the theme is agnostic with respect to any specific sustainable development goal: we can help work towards any goal that relies on the use of genetic diversity.

 

By conserving diversity and devising novel approaches for fast progress, we not only help others have faster immediate impact, but also provide a pipeline that will indefinitely support rapid adaptation to emerging developmental challenges as they arise, thus ensuring truly sustainable development in the sense of the 1987 Brundtland report on the definition of sustainable.

 

See https://www.irri.org/our-work/outcome-themes/harnessing-rice-genetic-diversity-accelerate-impact

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