Plant genomics – facing the future food crisis

Posted by Biome on 27th August 2013 - 5 Comments


Following on from Genome Biology’s special issue on plant genomics, five leaders in the field of plant research discuss why they think plant genomics is flourishing in a special edition podcast. The speakers include Dale Sanders (The John Innes Centre, UK), Catherine Feuillet (Bayer CropScience, USA*), Mario Pezzotti (Verona University, Italy), David Kuhn (USDA-ARS stationed in Florida, USA) and Guest Editor of the Genome Biology special issue, Mario Caccamo (The Genome Analysis Centre, UK).§

Mario Caccamo, Acting Director, The Genome Analysis Centre, UK

 

The world population is growing at an immense rate and is predicted to reach nine billion by 2050. Despite this, the land area over which crops can be grown will remain relatively constant, highlighting the need to significantly increase crop yields. Due to the importance of plant genomics in solving the impending food crisis, Genome Biology felt the time was ripe to dedicate a special issue to the topic, with an Editorial by Mario Caccamo providing an excellent overview of plant genomics research.

Plant growth and development are strongly influenced by environmental conditions, and with global warming affecting climate, it will be critical to understand how crops respond to environmental signals. In a recent study published in Genome Biology, Mario Pezotti and colleagues address this relationship in the fruit crop grapevine whose berries are susceptible to environmental changes, thereby affecting the quality of wine produced. They show that different seasonal climates have a much greater effect on berry gene expression and metabolism than different vineyard environments. For more discussion of this research, check out the Biome research synopsis and this accompanying podcast.

Another moreish crop, this time close to the hearts of many chocoholics, is the cacao tree. David Kuhn and colleagues describe the sequencing of a cacao cultivar, and use this to identify genes regulating pod color and quality, in their highly accessed Genome Biology research article. It is hoped that these results will aid cacao breeding programs, as discussed in the accompanying Biome research synopsis and this special edition podcast.

Whilst chocolate and wine are often reserved as treats, a more staple crop is that of bread wheat – one of the most economically important food crops across the world, yet one still lacking a complete genome sequence. In another Genome Biology special issue study, Catherine Feuillet and colleagues describe the construction of a physical map of wheat chromosome 1BL. It is hoped that applying the same methods to other wheat chromosomes will lead to a complete bread wheat genome sequence, as Feuillet discusses in this accompanying podcast.

Finally, GM crops first hit the headlines 30 years ago, but what exactly are GM crops and why have they been undergoing something of a renaissance of late? Dale Sanders tackles these and other questions in this special edition podcast. If you’re interested in reading more about the debate on GM crops, then check out our Q&A piece with Sanders.

 

* Please note that at the time of recording, Catherine Feuillet was located at INRA, France.
§ Please note that the speakers discuss their own personal views and are not wishing to represent the viewpoints of their institutes.