Molecular Breeding for a Sustainable Agriculture
What is the topic of this research?
The agriculture of the future needs to become more sustainable. The careful use of the important resource water is central for this goal. Rapid growth of cities, spread of deserts and the growth of world population limits the area available for agriculture. The Green Revolution has multiplied yield per area by a factor of five and thus has ensured food supply (the fact that there is still hunger on our planet, is not a matter of agriculture, but of insufficient distribution!). This undoubted success becomes progressively endangered - overexploitet soils turn barren, precious drinking water is misused for intensive agriculture, soils turn saline. We need to breed new crops that are able to cope with drought and saline soil, and still produce yield ("yield under stress").
How did this idea develop?
By means of our rice mutant collection we were able to demonstrate that the regulation of the central stress hormone jasmonic acid can decide, how a plant can cope with drought or salt stress. For successful adaptation jasmonate signalling has to be activated in a timely manner. Interestingly, it is also important that it is later switched off again in a timely manner to avoid irreversible damage. In fact, the situation is not so different from human immunity: when we catch a fever, this is actually something positive, when the fever fails to cease, however, this can become dangerous. In cooperation with international partners we are now working on transforming this knowledge into practical application. In cooperation with colleagues at the Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute in Egypt and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines we investigated mutants, where the stress hormone jasmonic acid ("plant adrenalin") cannot be produced, which surprisingly allows these mutants to cope better with drought as compared to normal rice plants.
What is our vision?
We discovered genes that contribute to keep the rice mutant "cool" under stress. Using these genes, it is possible, by so called smart breeding to identify candidates for breeding. Next step is now to improve, in a concerted action of scientists from KIT, IRRI, Japan and Myanmar, the stress resilience of a rice variety relevant for Myanmar.