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New CRP: Development of Integrated Techniques for Induced Genetic Diversity and Improvement of Vegetatively Propagated and Horticultural Tree Crops (D24014)

New Coordinated Research Project

(Photo: I. K. Bimpong/IAEA)

Vegetatively propagated crops (VPCs) and horticultural tree crops (HTCs) play an important role in food security and income and represent significant agricultural opportunities in most countries of the globe. However, due to limited genetic diversity, their improvement has been very slow as they cannot be easily self or cross-pollinated to produced seed or expand variation.

Climate change further worsens this situation by causing serious production losses from factors such as intensifying and transboundary spread of pests and pathogens. To date, very few VPCs and HTCs have been improved or developed through induced genetic variation and released for cultivation compared to seed-propagated crops. To meet the rising demands for food and nutrition without adverse environmental footprints, it is imperative to develop efficient methodologies and protocols capable of overcoming these limitations associated with plant mutation breeding in VPCs and HTCs.

The IAEA, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is launching this new Coordinated Research Project (CRP) with a time frame of five years to develop novel genetic resources, methodologies and tools for accelerated breeding for productivity improvement in VPCs (root and tuber crops) and HTCs (olive) by using mutation induction and associated biotechnologies.

By developing and/or optimizing these protocols for tissue culture-based induced mutagenesis, the CRP will provide outcomes that can guide National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Member States to accelerate the development of new varieties of VPCs and HTCs through the use of efficient state-of-the-art technology packages.

The CRP will comprise ten participating countries from Member States where the crops are grown extensively, some advanced institutions and the CGIAR research centres with the respective mandates. Each country will bring together researchers covering the fields of micropropagation, advanced functional genomics for variant discovery and the use of nuclear techniques to induce genetic diversity at the cell or tissue level in select VPCs and HTCs to address the research objectives.

CRP Overall Objective:

The CRP aims to develop new genetic resources and technologies for accelerated breeding in VPCs and HTCs through induced genetic diversity, chimera-free regeneration and functional genomics.

Specific Research Objectives:

  1. To develop or refine protocols for tissue culture, chimera-free regeneration and retention of induced mutation in root and tuber crops, primarily cassava, and in the perennial tree crop, olive.

  2. To generate induced genetic diversity in cassava and olive through physical mutagenesis for tolerance to cassava brown streak virus, and olive quick decline syndrome, respectively or a major disease in a specific root and tuber crop.

  3. To develop functional genomics tools and methodologies for the discovery of molecular markers and candidate genes in cassava, olive or a specific root and tuber crop.


The CRP will lead to the generation of (a) stable mutant clones that are free-of-chimeras and characterized at the genetic and molecular levels for traits of interest and (b) publication of protocols for phenotyping and genomic analyses for Member States.


Genetic improvement of these important crops will help to directly meet some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those related to health and nutrition, and the reduction of poverty and hunger. For instance, more than 240 million tons of roots and tuber crops covering around 23 million hectares are produced annually in sub-saharan Africa. But VPCs and HTCs are constrained compared to seed produced crops because of their reduced genetic diversity. Besides, the application of conventional breeding methods is also time-consuming due to the high degree of heterozygosity, long juvenility, large size, and sometimes self-incompatibility in most VPCs and HTCs, which often results in cultivars not accepted by consumers.

There is a high demand from Member States to improve VPCs and HTCs as reflected in many technical cooperation projects (TCPs); Recently, Member States in the Pacific Islands, such as Fiji, Vanuatu, Jamaica, etc. have also expressed an interest in the development of VPCs (taro, yam, banana, ginger and indigenous potatoes).

The use of mutagens such as gamma or X rays is particularly appealing for VPCs and HTCs, since unlike chemical mutagens they create structural mutations which involve many genes, increasing the overall probability of success in this CRP. Based on the predominance of the two crops in FAO/IAEA Member States, the CRP contracts will be distributed in a proportion of 70:30 between cassava (or root and tuber crops in general) and olive.

How to join the CRP:

Please submit your Proposal for Research Contract or Agreement by email, no later than 30th January 2021, to the IAEA’s Research Contracts Administration Section, using the appropriate template on the CRA web portal. Note that the same template can be used for both research contract and technical contract.

For further information related to this CRP, potential applicants should use the contact form under the CRP.

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