ICARDA's Phenotyping Facilities: A Game-Changing Solution for Abiotic Stress Tolerance in Crops

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Global crop production faces significant obstacles such as abiotic stresses like heat, pests, and water scarcity due to climate change that can combine to significant yield reductions. Rapid population growth also increases demand beyond supply and further stresses production methods.

However, thanks to new image-based phenotyping methods that can determine a plant’s genetic traits within specific environments, and sophisticated data analysis techniques such as machine learning, we can now dissect abiotic stress tolerance mechanisms in relevant plants and unlock new valuable traits to breed into new, resilient crop varieties. High-throughput phenotyping (HTP), which speeds up the phenotyping process, is revolutionizing breeding programs by increasing the intensity and accuracy of the selection processes.

ICARDA, with the support of the African Economic and Social Development Fund (AFESD), began modernizing its breeding programs in 2020. Initial work focused on integrating genomic prediction (forecasting the traits of plants) in the breeding pipelines before research moved to speed breeding technology to expedite breeding methods and HTP for increasing selection accuracy and intensity.

ICARDA’s phenotyping facilities: a phenomenal breakthrough

ICARDA’s phenotyping facilities are located in Morocco, with a phenomobile system (PhenoBuggy) based at the central research station in Marchouch (Rabat) and a precision phenotyping platform located at Sidi el Aidi (Settat). The precision phenotyping platform, created in collaboration with the National Institute for Agricultural Research of Morocco (INRA) and CIMMYT, hosts a rainout shelter fully automated lysimeter (PhysioTron) equipped with an HTP system designed for drought and heat stress tolerance studies. Data collected from those and other ICARDA strategic testing locations across its mandate region are combined and used to provide elite germplasm to our NARES partners.

The PhysioTron is a marvel of modern technology, housing up to 750 plots, 1.5 meters in depth, filled with soil according to soil profiles specified by the station. Its fully automated control system offers flexibility for designing a wide range of experiments that allow for applying various and controlled water regimes in each of the ten sectors. A mobile gantry will enable researchers to access middle plots without disturbing the earth of side plots. The system has a LiDAR and two RGB cameras for assessing green fraction, greenness, plant and spike counting, height, and biovolume.


Contact: Andrea Visioni, Pre-Breeding, and Physiology Scientist – Genetic Innovation, ICARDA via A.Visioni@cgiar.org

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