Expert urges new crop devt methods

The use of genetic modification, including genomic selection and molecular marker-assisted breeding, to improve certain traits of plants, crop improvement could become long process to develop a commercially ready product, which is why some plant scientists shy away from it.

Glenn Gregorio, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), said many are impatient with that process and offer better techniques and tools to shorten the process, but still fail in the implementation of a new breeding program.

Gregorio stated this position as speaker at the Association of Academies and Societies of Sciences in Asia (AASSA)-Korean Academy of Science and Technology (KAST) Regional Workshop on Crop Biotechnology for Sustainable Agriculture held in Seoul, Korea in September in conjunction with the 2019 AASSA executive board meeting.

He recommended exploring an alternative approach to implementing a modern breeding program to address the problem of fast-tracking the development of crop varieties for commercialization. He proposed that practical factors be considered and a crop master plan be developed where breeding strategies will be laid out.

"The plan should include the crop market analysis or market intelligence, strength-weakness-opportunity-threat analysis by market segment, and breeding strategies," Gregorio, who is an eminent rice scientist and member of the National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines, said.

He also said that while "marker-assisted selection" is central to most plant breeding programs because the technique allows scientists to use genetic markers that enable them to predict whether a plant will have the desired gene, he suggests the "market-assisted selection" approach.

"The targeting [of] specific market segments and develop the product profile per segment, followed by the development of a breeding strategy for the target market segment; implementation of the product development strategy, and finally the seed system strategy while taking into account the logistical constraints in regulatory issues especially if the product is derived from regulated biotechnological tools," he said.

He also stressed that in the implementation proper, an integrated breeding platform toward speeding genetic gain must be in place.

"This platform includes the creation of an interdisciplinary crop breeding team, automation and mechanization, specific techniques in shortening the breeding cycles like genomic selection strategy, gene-editing, and strengthening collaboration between the academic community and commercial crop breeders," Gregorio said.

He also recommended the introduction of genomic selection into a crop breeding program along with a strong research management approach, by identifying and analyzing the problem with the particular crop (such as low genetic gain), identifying the impact on stakeholders, and proposing of a project that will implement genomic selection proofs of concept and training for breeders.

There is also a need for an engaged crop breeding team that effectively communicates to ensure the sustainable implementation of a holistic modern crop breeding program, Gregorio added.