• English
  • العربية
  • 中文
  • Français
  • Русский
  • Español

You are here

Global Success in Plant Breeding Celebrated with New Achievement Awards


IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi awards scientists and teams on their outstanding achievement in plant mutation breeding and associated biotechnologies. (Photo: F.Llukmani/IAEA)

Climate change and food security are among the biggest challenges facing the global community. Endeavouring to find solutions at the urgent pace that is required to improve food security and crop adaptation to climate change, experts in many countries are looking to nuclear techniques to develop new and improved crop varieties for cultivation.

Today, at the 65th IAEA General Conference, a side event recognised the contributions to plant mutation breeding from 28 researchers and research teams of institutions from across 20 countries – honouring them with awards for outstanding achievements. Awards were presented by the Director General of the IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, with the recorded presence of the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Qu Dongyu in a ceremony in Vienna. This recognition includes 11 Outstanding Achievement Awards, 10 Women in Plant Mutation Breeding Awards, and 7 Young Scientist Awards for significant efforts in the last decade in the development of new mutant varieties using irradiation.

In handing over the awards, Mr Grossi spoke about the commitment from the IAEA and FAO, via the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, to support researchers from around the world in mutation breeding.

"What we like to honour is the elevation of the human-mind and the spirit that puts science at the service of big problems. Which is what FAO does in Rome and we do here at the IAEA," he said.

The IAEA, in cooperation with FAO, assists experts worldwide in using nuclear techniques in agriculture, including support with irradiating seeds or other plant material in order to develop plant varieties with superior characteristics, such as drought tolerance or increased yields. This process, called plant mutation breeding, uses the plant’s own natural genetic resources to mimic the spontaneous process of mutation in the evolution of plants. It increases the pace of genetic change and allows plant breeders to select the most desirable ones from many mutant lines.

“The positive impacts of improved cultivars on food security and nutrition at local, national and regional levels are ensuring more stable crop production in stress conditions due to the climate crisis. As well as sustaining farmer’s livelihoods and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” Mr Dongyu said, noting that, “with the technical support provided by the Joint Centre, plant breeders in many countries have achieved substantial improvement through mutation breeding in a wide range of crops.”

Since the last Superior and Outstanding Achievement Awards in 2014, when contributions to plant mutation breeding were recognised for the first time at the 50th Anniversary of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre, significant strides have been made in the development and release of new improved crop varieties for cultivation by researchers across the globe. Simultaneously, technology development and application in the use of newer sources of irradiation such as ion beams and space irradiation are also gaining prominence. Recipients of the current awards have in many cases generated positive socioeconomic impact resulting from their work, including increased farmers’ income and food security. These developments have been critical in engaging global interest and encouraged the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre to initiate a new set of awards, including some to recognise the achievements of women and young scientists, said Qu Liang, Director of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre.

The use of plant mutation breeding continues to progress at the fastest pace in Asia – and experts in the region can now share best practices via the Plant Mutation Breeding Network for Asia and the Pacific, recently set up by the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre, which offers technical support based on each country’s needs. The Joint Centre further continues to explore and develop innovative new technologies to accelerate the pace of crop improvement including the use of newer sources of irradiation, genomics technologies, big data and artificial intelligence, along with specific speed breeding technologies, which is a critical part of climate smart agriculture.

"What we like to honour is the elevation of the human-mind and the spirit that puts science at the service of big problems. Which is what FAO does in Rome and we do here at the IAEA."
Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA Director General

Recognising excellence

Advanced technology specifically in the use of ion beams in mutation breeding is recognised in the achievement award for Women in Plant Mutation Breeding to Tomoko Abe of Japan, Mr Liang said.

“Heavy-ion beams can induce a wide variety of known and unknown effects on plants according to their ion species and energies. It is my aim to clarify any uncertainties in this technology, so as to help further develop and spread its application globally and contribute to food security as well as the fight against global warming,” said Ms Abe, Deputy Director and Beam Mutagenesis Group Director at the Riken Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science.

Young Scientist awardee, Prince Matova, a Research and Agronomy Manager and Maize and Legumes Breeder from the Crop Breeding Institute at the Ministry of Agriculture in Zimbabwe, has collaborated with researchers in Zimbabwe to evaluate the potential of using gamma rays to improve crops. He released Zimbabwe’s first cowpea variety developed with a nuclear technique that can be grown in regions with very little annual rainfall.

“I am happy to see that after having developed elite maize and cowpea varieties, training local and external researchers and modernising our breeding programmes, we have made plant mutation breeding effective and visible in Zimbabwe,” Mr Matova said. The Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB) at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission is among the winners of the outstanding achievement award. The institute, working in close cooperation with the IAEA and FAO, has a long track record in crop improvement, having released 52 crop varieties in the last decade. “The varieties have improved food sustainability in Pakistan and led to positive economic impacts worth around US$ 4.81 billion,” said Tariq Mahmud Shah, Director of the Institute.

Experimental rice fields at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB) in Pakistan, where new rice varieties are developed and tested. (Photo: NIAB)

The following scientists and teams were selected for the awards:

Outstanding Achievement:

  • Bangladesh: Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture
  • China: Wheat Mutation Breeding Team, Institute of Crop Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences
  • Cuba: Nuclear Techniques Applied Group, National Institute of Agricultural Science
  • India: Mutation Breeding Team, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
  • Indonesia: Plant Breeding Group, Agriculture Division, Centre for Isotopes and Radiation Application, National Nuclear Energy Agency
  • Iran: Plant Breeding Department, Nuclear Agricultural Research School, Nuclear Science and Technology Institute
  • Malaysia: Malaysian Nuclear Agency
  • Mali: Fousseyni Cisse, Institut d'Economie Rurale
  • Pakistan: Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission
  • Pakistan: Cotton Mutation Breeding Team, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission
  • South Africa: Mutation Breeding Team, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

Women in Plant Mutation:

  • Bangladesh: Shamsun Nahar Begum, Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture
  • China: Huijun Guo, Institute of Crop Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences
  • India: Kavera Biradar, University of Agricultural Sciences
  • Japan: Tomoko Abe, RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science
  • Kenya: Miriam Kinyua, University of Eldoret
  • Republic of Korea: Min Jeong Hong, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute
  • Mauritius: Saraye Banumaty, Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institute
  • Namibia: Lydia Ndinelao Horn, University of Namibia, Multidisciplinary Research Centre
  • Peru: Luz Rayda Gomez-Pando, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina
  • Viet Nam: Vo Thi Minh Tuyen, Agricultural Genetics Institute

Young Scientist:

  • China: Zhen Yang, Institute of Nuclear Agriculture Sciences and Space Mutagenesis Breeding, Hunan Academy of Agricultural Sciences
  • India: Dhanasekar Punniyamoorthy, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
  • Madagascar: Harimialimalala Jhonny Rabefiraisana, Faculty of Sciences, University of Antananarivo
  • Pakistan: Muhammad Kashif Riaz Khan, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission
  • Tanzania: Salum Faki Hamad, Zanzibar Agricultural Research Institute
  • Viet Nam: Nguyen Van Manh, Agricultural Genetics Institute
  • Zimbabwe: Prince Matova, Crop Breeding Institute, Department of Research and Specialist Services, Ministry of Agriculture

Stay in touch