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Opening Statement to FAO/IAEA International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants

Vienna, Austria

Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Vienna International Center for the International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants.

This international symposium, promoted by the Joint IAEA/FAO Division, is the eighth of its kind - the first was held in 1969 - dedicated to harnessing and disseminating information on current trends in induced mutagenesis in plants. These symposia have dealt with themes relating to the development of efficient protocols for induced mutagenesis and their role in the enhancement of quality traits, as well as resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses in crops and the integration of in vitro and molecular genetic techniques in mutation induction.

The Joint FAO/IAEA Division has been promoting the efficient use of mutation techniques since late 1960s, in line with the Agency´s "atoms for peace" agenda, and very much related to agricultural policy and practices of some our main donor nations. In 1960, for example, in the United States, disease heavily damaged the bean crop in Michigan - except for a promising new variety that had been made by radiation breeding, which quickly replaced the old bean.

The Manual on Mutation Breeding, edited by the Agency and first published in 1970, updated in 1979 and reprinted several times afterwards, was the first book of its kind in the world. It has been widely used both as textbook in universities (translated into a couple of local languages) and reference book for breeders in their profession. Together with the training provided to scientists in developing countries and the support and coordination of research activities in this area, this manual has greatly promoted the correct and efficient use of mutation techniques in crop improvement.

At a time when the world is facing a food and energy crisis of unprecedented proportions, plant mutation breeding can be a catalyst in developing improved, higher yield, saline resistant sturdier crop varieties. More and more, the interest of the scientific community in this discipline has focused on the discovery of genes that control important traits, and for understanding the functions and mechanisms of actions of these genes.

The year 2008 marks the 80th anniversary of mutation induction in crop plants. It was in August of that year that Dr. L.J. Stadler published Mutations in Barley Induced by X-Rays and Radium in Science (Science 24 August 1928, Vol. 68, No.1756, pp185-187). Since then, the widespread use of induced mutants in plant breeding programmes throughout the world has led to date to the official release of close to 3000 mutant varieties from more than 170 different plant species. Many of these varieties (including cereals, pulses, oil, root and tuber crops, and ornamentals) have been released in developing countries, resulting in considerable positive economic impacts, which are measured in billions of US$ and tens of millions of hectares of cropping area.

In effect, the application of mutation techniques, i.e. gamma rays and other physical and chemical mutagens has generated a vast amount of genetic variability and plays a significant role in plant breeding and genetics and advanced genomics studies. There will be many recent mutation induction success stories presented here, in a wide range of disciplines. Please allow me to just cite two in the field of plant breeding and genetics, fostered by the Agency through the Joint FAO/IAEA Division in collaboration with the Technical Cooperation Department:

    1. The first example is:


    1. Mutant barley varieties that thrive up to 5000 m altitude in the inclement highlands of Peru. The adoption and cultivation of these mutant varieties accounts for over 52% yield increase between 1978 and 2002 translating to significant increases in income generation for the Indio farmers. For the socio-economic impact of improved barley mutant varieties, the Peruvian government has awarded the 2006 Prize of "Good Governmental Practices" to the principal counterpart.


    1. The second example relates to:


  1. Mutant rice varieties that thrive in the high salinity region of the Mekong Delta in Viet Nam. The breeder of one of these varieties, with export quality that made it up amongst the five top export rice varieties, got the 2005 National Science and Technology Prize of Viet Nam for this variety because of socio-economic impact.

These are just two examples of many that showcase the ability of mutation induction to produce hardier cops adapted to harsh environments.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year, 2008, will be remembered as the year in which the Global conscience understood the realities of climate change, the food crisis and the energy debate in its link to hunger. These big issues are intimately interlinked, and translate in the agronomy field into a competition between food, feed and fuel for soil, water, human and financial resources.

Mutation induction has proven flexible, workable, and ready to use on any crop. In addition, it is a non-hazardous and low-cost technology that has the ability to address current challenges in agriculture. The breeding of new mutant varieties - with a higher yield potential, more productive biomass for energy use, better nutrient composition for human health, better adaptation to climate change and variability, or a heightened potential to sequester carbon - will be the driving force to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Combined technology packages based on mutation induction, the most advanced genomic screening techniques and nuclear techniques applied to good agricultural practices will foster powerful new tools to improve plant breeding. In this respect, this Symposium brings together key players in basic research, as well as in the development and application of technologies relating to the efficient use of induced mutations for crop improvement and empirical genetic studies.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Colleagues,

Before you begin your deliberations, I would like to remind you that this Symposium is representative of one of the best collaborations in the United Nations system - the Joint FAO/IAEA Division - two sister agencies working for the welfare of humanity- a partnership that is already 44 years old.

I wish you fruitful discussions and a successful participation at the Symposium.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018


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