Radiation-induced crop diversity and genetic associations for accelerating variety development

Open for proposals

Project Type

Coordinated Research Project

Project Code




Approved Date

9 September 2021


2 - New - Collecting or Evaluating proposals


The global development community continues to grapple with the onerous task of achieving a 50 percent increase in the production of food and other agricultural products over the 2012 figures by 2050 (FAO, 2017), a feat that requires a 37 percent rate increase over the current six-decade long linear trend (Tester and Langridge, 2010).  Climate change adds another dimension to this challenge by triggering crop losses from droughts and warming global temperatures (Wheeler and von Braun, 2013).  In addition to direct effects on crop productivity, warming temperatures increase the intensity, frequency and spread of pests and diseases that further reduce crop yields. Improved genetics constitute the most fundamental and sustainable solution for food security and crop adaptation to climate change because it intrinsically improves crop performance or stabilises it under stress.  Rapidly advancing genomic technologies, big data and Artificial Intelligence; computational biology tools; and streamlined digital breeding management systems; together with improving cost efficiencies can now enable the acceleration of crop improvement at a rate and precision not feasible before. 
Induced genetic diversity and breeding with promising mutations for farmer-preferred traits in agronomically sound genetic backgrounds have paved the way for crop improvement across the globe for over seven decades now.  Testament to this is the >3300 mutant varieties from >70 countries and >220 plant species represented in the Mutant Variety Database (mvd.iaea.org).  Induced mutations fortify plant germplasm pools and enable faster genetic gain, especially where the genetic base is narrow.  Mutation breeding thus has the potential to facilitate larger genetic gain than conventional breeding.  This advantage, coupled with emerging front-end technologies for efficient and precise selection, can both accelerate the pace of crop improvement and increase the rate of genetic gain.
Breeding with induced genetic diversity has remained a highly effective avenue for the improvement of both simple and complex crop traits in developing Member States of the FAO/IAEA.  Mutation breeding has mainly relied on gamma rays, but most recently the ion beam, electron beam, proton beam and space irradiation (cosmic rays) are coming into increasing use at least in some Member States, though the effect of these different sources on the plant genome remain to be assessed systematically.  Newer genomic technologies that establish genetic associations for marker and candidate gene discovery also remain yet to be applied to mutation breeding for increased precision and breeding efficiency.  Mutant populations generated from induced genetic variation are traditionally used directly as source germplasm for breeding and variety development.  However, they can also render themselves to the establishment of genetic associations for marker-assisted breeding and gene editing.  Theoretically, mutant populations can also be used for genomic predictions for increased efficiency of the breeding process. 
This CRP will address: (1) assessment of biological and genomic effects of current and new mutagen sources; (2) development, adaptation and dissemination of computational tool(s) for genetic associations and marker discovery; and (3) piloting of gene editing and genomic prediction.  Focus will be on diploid seed crops with good sequence information in the public domain, and simple traits.  Genomic prediction will be tested in only one of ten contracts, on a complex trait.  Improved mutant lines for targeted traits will be simultaneously generated in the process of implementing the CRP.


To strengthen the ability of the Agency and its Member States to develop and test emerging technologies in mutation induction, genomics and big data to facilitate the accelerated development of crop varieties for food security and climate-change adaptation.

Specific objectives

To assess the nature of mutations induced by different mutagen sources, including gamma rays, ion beam, proton beam, electron beam and cosmic radiation.

To determine molecular variant(s) underlying mutations for marker-assisted breeding.

To confirm at least one mutant phenotype using gene editing. Focus will be on seed crops, diploid genomes and simple traits.

To develop a test case to effectively apply genomic selection in mutation breeding.

To identify novel mutants for crop-trait combinations included in the project.

To develop/adapt reproducible computational tools and platforms to determine genetic associations

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