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Genomic Initiative Launched to Develop More Resilient Lines of Rice and Wheat

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – An initiative including partners in the US, Australia, and India has launched to develop climate-resilient varieties of two of the "big three" primary crops using genomic technologies.

The project to develop new varieties of rice and wheat will be conducted by the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and India-based Vibha Agrotech, a private crop genetics and plant breeding research organization. The United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, is providing support to the project, which is part of the US government's global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future.

ACPFG will provide its gene technologies and expertise in cereal stress tolerance to the effort, while Vibha is providing its field evaluation and rice transformation capabilities in order to develop new rice and wheat varieties that can better tolerate drought and salinity, "allowing farmers more stable production in the face of sudden drought and evolving salt water intrusion," USAID said.

Climate change has reduced agricultural productivity, with developing countries especially vulnerable to the effects of altered environmental conditions. USAID said that South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and North Africa are expected to experience yield losses of up to 35 percent by the year 2050 for major crops.

The new rice and wheat varieties developed as part of the initiative will be evaluated under representative field conditions, and the most successful lines will be transferred into the varieties that farmers grow. Work will initially be carried out in Australia and India, but the technologies will be made available to developing nations in South Asia and elsewhere where climate stresses affect cereal yields.

"We have to increase global food production by 60 percent by 2050, even as climate change is already affecting crop yields," Julie Howard, USAID's chief scientist in the Bureau for Food Security and senior advisor to the Administrator on Agricultural Research, Extension and Education, said in a statement. "That means we must use all the tools available to us to grow more food on less land and with less water."