BMGF investment in agricultural innovation will speed development impact for cassava
There has been steady progress in cassava breeding in the past 30 years. But when presented with a novel shortcut, why take the long way around?
Agricultural experts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – known for being “impatient optimists” – don’t feel like waiting for improved crop varieties to be developed for smallholder farmers. The Foundation has generously granted CIAT’s “Double Haploid Breeding for Cassava Enhancement” project a second phase.
A major aim of CIAT’s research is to speed the development of new traits in improved varieties through the use of advanced plant breeding techniques. The Center’s cassava breeders have devised a highly efficient protocol that uses microspore culture to derive haploid embryos as a first step toward producing double haploid plants, as reported in a recent study.
Such plants are genetically pure lines containing two identical sets of genes. The double haploid technique can reduce the time needed to breed new varieties – with desired traits, such as high yield, improved starch quality, and disease resistance – by up to 5 years compared with traditional breeding.
The double haploid technique requires the use of anther or microspore culture, by which immature pollen grains are extracted from cassava flowers that have been allowed to produce colonies of cells referred to as “callus.” The callus is then transferred to the culture medium, which is supplemented with growth regulators to induce the development of shoots, roots and then new plants.
This BMGF-funded project aims to determine the possibility of inducing haploid embryos or calli, using cold or heat pre-treated anthers. It represents an entirely new approach to producing double haploids for cassava breeding.
Scientists are developing robust protocols for the innovative process so that other breeding programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America can take advantage of the double haploid method, further strengthening South-South scientific exchange.
“Developing a protocol for the production of double haploids in a given crop is a difficult and time consuming process. It was difficult for maize in the 1980s and it is difficult for cassava today but the potential to revolutionize cassava breeding is huge” said cassava program leader, Clair Hershey.
By bringing these advanced methods to scale, agricultural research will be able to reach more farmers, more quickly, and with cassava that better meet their production, processing, and market needs.
Read the latest Stewardship Report to learn about Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CIAT’s partnership to find innovative solutions for the challenges smallholders face.