GFAR blog, Research in society

Genome editing: A revolutionary tool to speed up plant breeding

CIAT Research Associate Sandra Valdes holds a petri dish with germinating rice seeds that are part of a study to prove if a single gene may offer resistance to the destructive hoja blanca virus. 

Innovation has always been part of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture’s (CIAT) DNA. Since its birth in 1967, CIAT has utilized novel tools to breed and improve some of the most important crops in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Genome editing is one such tool. It uses CRISPR-Cas, a revolutionary technology that can “cut” genes, prompting cells to repair or improve them.

At CIAT, scientists use genome editing to establish whether a particular gene has resistance to the hoja blanca virus. This pathogen bleaches the leaves of and kills rice plants.

They are also studying if CRISPR-Cas can improve digestibility of beans. Some people get stomachache after eating beans due to the presence of naturally occurring compounds like polysaccharides.

In addition, CIAT is exploring the use of CRISPR-Cas to confirm the presence of a virus and make crops resilient to climate change.

“[Genome editing is] probably one of the most promising technologies right now in agriculture,” said Joe Tohme during the #CIAT50 celebrations at the center’s headquarters in Cali, Colombia.

He added that CIAT is partnering with organizations in the academic, corporate, public and research sectors to accelerate plant breeding using genome editing, as well as to develop a strategy to communicate about what the genome technology is and what it tries to achieve. These include the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization in Japan and the Broad Institute in the United States.

CIAT is currently the lone institute in Latin America with expertise on genome editing for agricultural crops.

Click here for more information on CIAT’s genome editing activities.

Blog post by Maria Eliza Villarino, Visiting Communicator, CIAT

PARTNER SPOTLIGHT logoThis story is part of our Partner Spotlight on the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Join us this week as we feature the stories from of one of the leading CGIAR international research centers, whose mission is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics through research aimed at increasing the eco-efficiency of agriculture.

GFAR Secretariat is turning the spotlight on the work and collective actions of Partners in GFAR who share in our mission to strengthen and transform agri-food research and innovation systems globally. Not a GFAR partner yet? Join now!

Photo credit: Neil Palmer / CIAT

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