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MasAgro offers “genetic insurance” for maize and wheat

By Ricardo Curiel /CIMMYT

CIMMYT work in Mexico could provide safeguards against climate change challenges.

Eighty maize and wheat experts met in Guadalajara, Jalisco State, Mexico from 21 to 23 October to share major research advances in the Sustainable Modernization of Traditional Agriculture (MasAgro) program. The researchers came from 16 organizations collaborating with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) and CIMMYT in implementing MasAgro and, specifically, its “Seeds of Discovery” (SeeD) component. “Seeds of Discovery applies advanced genetic tools to identify and provide breeders with useful diversity from maize and wheat genetic resource collections, so they can develop higher-yielding and climate-ready varieties for farmers in Mexico and worldwide,” said Peter Wenzl, CIMMYT scientist and leader of the component. He described SeeD  as “genetic insurance against climate change,” because it introduces novel genetic diversity for improving traits such as drought and heat tolerance.

Another goal of SeeD is to promote the development of modern crop improvement capabilities, calling on higher education institutions, research centers, government agencies and other stakeholders to design a postgraduate program in genetic resources that puts Mexico at the global forefront of research in this field. Other speakers detailed research results such as work to identify genes that control flowering in maize landraces. “Maize varieties that flower earlier are less vulnerable to frosts that reduce crop production, said Alberto Romero, a Mexican researcher at Cornell University. Cornell is working with Seeds of Discovery on the molecular characterization of thousands of maize accessions.

The meeting included a visit to the National Center for Genetic Resources (CNRG) of the National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture, and Livestock Research (INIFAP) in Tepatitlán, Jalisco, where the most important genetic resources of Mexico – including maize and wheat – are preserved. Fernando de la Torre, CNRG director, said the center preserves 9,000 unique maize seed samples, as well as collections for key crops such as beans, wheat, tomato and chilies. CIMMYT and INIFAP, in collaboration with Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT), have also launched the “Agricultural Genetic Analysis Service” (SAGA) to genetically characterize maize and wheat samples for MasAgro and to support Mexican scientists in studies of the genetic composition of the plant and animal species important for food security. Since its beginnings in December 2012, SAGA has performed DNA analyses of more than 11,000 distinct varieties of maize and wheat.