The International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) unveiled a new facility at its premises on Friday that will revolutionise seed breeding by reducing the time to produce them.
The facility is projected to significantly lower the time and cost of crop varietal development. The state-of-the-art facility is a first for any public sector agricultural research institution.
Called RapidGen, a moniker for Rapid Generation Advancement, the facility will accelerate the plant life cycle in light, temperature and humidity controlled conditions. Presently, breeding a new crop variety takes about a decade or more, with six or seven years spent in seasonal generational advancements to arrive at the elite lines that go for testing and release as varieties. RapidGen will shorten the six-seven year window significantly. When used with the full suite of breeding acceleration techniques, it can reduce the breeding cycle by an estimated 40% in most crops.
“Climate and exponential population growth have to be considered for rapid development of improved food crops. But, we also need to look at what has been achieved to sustain food security and achieve nutrition security,” said Director General of ICRISAT Dr. Peter Carberry.
“With facilities like RapidGen, crop breeders can overcome the limitations of seasons and photo-period to develop the elite generations in fraction of the time and cost it would take if done in fields,” he said.
RapidGen comprises three installations — testbed optimisation chambers, lighting controlled greenhouse bays, and a temperature-regulated light deprivation polyhouse. Depending on the crop and the requirements of breeding programmes, researchers can scale up their activities in either controlled greenhouse bays or in the polyhouse facility after using the testbeds for protocol development.
Largest of the three installations, the polyhouse can be used for over 30,000 crosses in one go. Each of the installations is equipped to finely regulate temperature, light and humidity.
“Every crop is unique in the way it responds to a set of environmental parameters. We have to mimic the right set of conditions within these closed installations to convince a plant to grow faster at high density and reproduce quickly. These set of conditions, which we call ‘recipes’, are crop specific-protocols to hasten the crop cycle while producing healthy and viable seeds,” said the Theme Leader at ICRISAT Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur.
Deputy Director General - Research, ICRISAT, Dr. Kiran K. Sharma informed that protocols for chickpea, groundnut, pearl millet and sorghum were already in place. “Protocol development is the first step before a breeding programme can take advantage of facilities like RapidGen. With their development, our partners and collaborators, both public and private, can integrate these modern techniques into their breeding programmes,” he explained.
“Through RapidGen, we are attempting to herald a new era of breeding in agriculture research systems across the world. It is a case of many firsts, including a first for CGIAR,” Global Head - Breeding, ICRISAT, Dr. Jan Debaene, said.