Initiative:

Precision Genetics

Challenge

Feeding the world’s population of 8.5 billion by 2030 will require improved sustainable production to increase yields of more nutritious and higher quality foods that are accessible for the world’s most vulnerable populations. The growing demand for food will make current production losses intolerable, with pressures on food security further compounded by predicted decline in productivity due to climate change.

Conventional crop breeding methods alone will not be sufficient to meet future demand for high quality, nutritious food. A major drawback of conventional breeding is the inability to precisely select traits without including undesirable ‘co-joined’ traits from donor lines, or what is known as genetic linkage drag. This requires additional breeding cycles, prolonging the process, adding cost, and delaying impact.

Genome editing is a cost- and time-effective solution that can strategically complement conventional breeding. Genome editing enables precise and predictable refinement of crop genomes, and can be done in elite breeding lines and commercial varieties, enabling quick and cheap delivery of essential traits to users. It is now being used in more than 40 crops across 25 countries, with six gene-edited crop varieties (soybean, canola, rice, maize, mushroom and camelina) approved for commercialization.

Objective

This Initiative aims to overcome technical barriers to precise genetic changes in a more timely and cost-effective manner, accelerating impact where it is needed most.

Through precision genetic technology products, this Initiative seeks to reduce crop losses by approximately 20% and pesticide use by approximately 50%, and to improve micronutrient content (reaching 30–50% of estimated average requirements) with a reduced environmental footprint.

Activities

This objective will be achieved through:

  • Co-developing demand-driven gene-edited traits and crops with a focus on climate change resilience, tolerance to biotic stresses, and nutrition. Prioritization of traits and crops will be based on the principles of demand, co-development with national agricultural research systems (NARS), and co-ownership that considers both technology opportunities and enabling environments.
  • Convening communities of practice for gene-edited product lifecycle management, covering the diverse expertise needed, including the legal and regulatory aspects of delivering genome editing innovations to market and capacity development among partners.
  • Establishing a new centralized, coordinated governance and oversight platform, the Research Enabling and Oversight Unit. This unit will provide strategic direction and actively engage across CGIAR Initiatives and other investments.

Outcomes

Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. Joint decision-making frameworks are used by all genome editing collaborations among CGIAR, NARS, and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). All actors use a scaling approach for scaling genome editing innovations, including frameworks to mitigate risks and harness opportunities.
  2. Best practice guidelines and supporting materials that facilitate genome editing choices are available to NARS and other critical actors. NARS, end-users, and policymakers are supported in using genome editing as an option to address their agricultural development constraints and opportunities. Partners who choose genome editing solutions are supported to effectively manage the product lifecycle.
  3. Significant genetic gains in gene-edited products compared to conventional breeding counterfactuals, for the five initially prioritized crop/trait combinations. Agricultural research institutes, NARS and SMEs co-develop and jointly use gene-edited lines in breeding programs to efficiently achieve step-change gains for demand-driven traits.
  4. Genome editing incorporates traits that benefit women and youth in market-demanded products. Agricultural research institutes, NARS, SMEs and decision makers use genome editing technology to incorporate the needs of women and youth in market-demanded products within agrifood systems. The Initiative enables multiple and complex combinations of traits that are otherwise “difficult to breed for,” ensuring gender-targeted traits are addressed.

Impact

Projected impacts and benefits include:

NUTRITION, HEALTH & FOOD SECURITY

More than 96 million people benefit from relevant CGIAR innovations. Staple crops are generally energy and carbohydrate rich, yet poor in micronutrient content, requiring diet diversification and nutrient enhancement to address chronic malnutrition. Future priorities include biofortification solutions to alleviate micronutrient deficiency for populations that lack diversified diets.

POVERTY REDUCTION, LIVELIHOODS & JOBS

More than 96 million people, with more than 18 million of them poor, benefit from relevant CGIAR innovations. Pest and disease resistant varieties limit the need for smallholders to make additional investments in agrochemicals in order to attain surplus yields that can be traded, thereby increasing the profit margin of vulnerable smallholders.

GENDER EQUALITY, YOUTH & SOCIAL INCLUSION

More than 34.7 million women farmers, with more than 18 million of them poor, benefit from CGIAR innovations. Resistant crop varieties that reduce the time and labor burden of the predominantly women and children who undertake pest control, improving their livelihoods and creating opportunities to realize childhood educational goals. Efforts to take into account the preferences of women and youth in decision-making throughout the product lifecycle and value chain also deliver benefits for these groups.

CLIMATE ADAPTATION & MITIGATION

91 million people benefit from climate adapted CGIAR innovations. Varieties better adapted to climate change are developed by targeting traits such as heat tolerance, methane reduction, and/or nitrogen-use-efficiency. The reduction of inputs resulting from the cultivation of pest- and disease-resistant varieties helps reduce carbon emissions from producing, transporting, and spraying pesticides to control pathogens.

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH & BIODIVERSITY

More than 16.5 million hectares of land under improved management. Improved varieties enhance production by minimizing the losses due to pests and disease, reducing pressure to convert natural areas to farmland, thereby maintaining biodiversity. The use of wild accessions in elite breeding lines increases the genetic diversity of crops, preserving agricultural biodiversity.

 

For more details, view the full preliminary outline

 

Header photo: Cross of selected clones introduced from INIA Uruguay with local varieties and advanced adopted International Potato Center-bred breeding clones with heat tolerance at the Huancayo Greenhouse, Peru. Photo by M. Major/Crop Trust.