Ensuring Global Food Security: Genomic Approaches To Crop Diversity
Posted 15th March 2017 by Jane Williams
As the world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, global food security represents one of the most researched topics in plant science. Jose de Vega, currently working on using genomic tools to compare diverse plant genomes, spoke to us about his research, global food security and the future of sequencing technologies.
What is your lab currently investigating?
Our group focuses on supporting crop improvements through the application of genomics approaches. We develop and implement methods for complex plant genomes, which we can later explore via comparative genomics and use to assess the diversity of crop populations. This allows the identification of key regulators of complex agronomic traits. Through the understanding of the genetics differences occurring in individuals from closely related species, we can identify the genetic information that is more relevant to plant breeding.
What developments in biotechnology are the most promising?
For what concerns the improvement of agricultural sustainability in the future, advances in sequencing and assembly techniques allow us to generate high quality genomes of complex crops that were previously technically or economically inaccessible. Furthermore, the science community is on its way to unlock the potential of crop diversity stored in genebanks around the globe and make it available to all, so that it can be used in future to enhance sustainability.
What is the impact of the latest technologies in gene sequencing?
Recent advances in DNA technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 have stimulated the development of innovative research in synthetic biology. Plant synthetic biology will directly contribute to the engineering of new crop traits, as well as the engineering of specific compounds and the ability to screen the effect of the diversity with bioinformatics expertise.
Amongst the most promising technology advances out there, there’s one which particularly triggers my interest. This is the MinION sequencer patented by the Oxford Nanopore, which will allow long reads in real-time from an inexpensive and compact USB device.
What do you think the plant genomics field will look like in ten years time?
We are moving in the right direction. Any improvement in plant breeding for more efficient and nutritious varieties will have a direct impact on ensuring global food security. For example, before industrial nitrogen fertiliser production (from fossil fuels), legume crops were essential in crop rotation, improving soil fertility. This is considerably eco-friendlier than the equivalent industrial process. Now, environmental concerns and climate change mitigation is putting red clover back in the spotlight. This requires genetic improvements to help boost its performance.
Jose de Vega is the Acting Leader of the Crop Genomics & Diversity Group, The Genome Analysis Centre UK. He closely works with breeders from UK and developing countries. He spoke at our 4th Plant Genomics Congress: Europe.
Interested in food security? Our expert speakers will discuss the latest developments in the field at the 5th Plant Genomics and Gene Editing Congress: USA.
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