Monday, September 29, 2008

Search is on for climate change-resistant crops

Cosmos: Thousands of crops, from banana to sweet potato, are being screened to identify varieties that will be most resistant to the future conditions created by climate change. The Global Crop Diversity Trust is providing around US$300,000 (A$375,000) of funding this year for researchers in 15 developing countries to screen crops for traits that will be useful in adapting food production to climate change.

The international foundation said that around US$200,000 will also be spent next year, with a continued commitment in the long term. "With crop diversity we can have an agricultural system that – if we're smart – is sustainable and productive, can feed people and fuel development," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the trust. "Without it agriculture cannot adapt to anything: pests, disease, climate change, drought, energy constraints … nothing,"

Researchers will screen the crops by growing them in different stress conditions – such as high salinity or high temperature – and assessing how well they grow. Varieties with positive traits will be put into an open access database. Some crops will also be entered into a 'pre-breeding' program. Integrating one or two genes from an old or wild variety into a modern variety is costly and difficult, says Fowler, and pre-breeding produces early-stage, new varieties with the desired traits, so that plant breeders can get a 'head start' on producing varieties for farmers' fields.

"Plant breeders often have to make quick progress so they're loathe to get involved in the kind of cutting edge research to put exotic traits in [a crop]. So the pre-breeding at least gets that first set of genes into some kind of form that is easier for a plant breeder," he said…

Global Seed Vault of the Crop Diversity Trust, Mari Tefre/Svalbard Global Seed Vault [1]Global Crop Diversity Trust

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