Filipino Scientist Pushes Modern Crop Breeding Program

SEOUL, South Korea – Even with the use of genetic modification — including genomic selection and molecular marker-assisted breeding — to improve certain traits of plants, crop improvement is a long process of developing a commercially ready product.

"Many are impatient with this process and offer better techniques and tools to shorten the process, but still fail in the implementation of a new breeding program," said Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), an eminent rice scientist, and a member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), Philippines of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-NAST).

Speaking 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, Dr. Gregorio 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," Dr. Gregorio explained.

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 a desired gene, Dr. Gregorio suggests a "market-assisted selection" approach.

He said the strategies in his proposed approach "may include the targeting specific market segments and develop the product profile per segment, followed by the development of breeding strategy for the target market segment, then 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 stressed that in the implementation proper, an integrated breeding platform towards 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," Dr. Gregorio said.

In summary, Dr. Gregorio recommends 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.

He also emphasized the need for an engaged crop breeding team which effectively communicates to ensure the sustainable implementation of a holistic modern crop breeding program.

The scientific workshop was held on 23-25 September 2019, in conjunction with the 2019 AASSA Executive Board Meeting.