Breakthrough science and innovation

M. Mitchell (IFPRI)

Mathematical models speed search for plant genetic traits to adapt to climate change

Looking for the genetic traits that control how plants respond to heat, cold and other stresses among the thousands of samples in plant collections is a daunting task. Scientists constantly seek quicker and more efficient ways to identify these important traits so that plant breeders can use them to develop crops that will thrive as climatic conditions change.

Information about how plant samples in many collections perform under certain climatic conditions is limited. To get this information, what usually happens is that scientists evaluate plants under different conditions—in laboratories, experiments and field trials. This traditional evaluation takes years. To speed up evaluation, CCAFS is supporting scientists at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and their partners to test a method that leap-frogs this time-consuming process, focusing on the faba bean.

Identifying genes that protect plants from environmental stresses helps scientists develop new productive crop varieties

Identifying genes that protect plants from environmental stresses helps scientists develop new productive crop varieties. S. Bachenheimer (World Bank)

Scientists input the limited data about plant samples into a mathematical model that predicts how, for example, plants will photosynthesize under different climatic conditions. As data on current climatic conditions is readily available, scientists have found that, using this model, they can quickly explore the genetic resources in thousands of samples.

Once scientists have identified useful plant genes that protect plants from stresses, plant breeders can use them to rapidly develop new crop varieties that will perform productively under changed climatic conditions. This breakthrough in the speedy development of new varieties to deal with changing climatic conditions is vital in meeting the anticipated increase in the demand for food in the future.

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