Funded by the Department for International Development through Innovate UK, this project directly addresses the need to improve food security and livelihoods for international development.
The project is a collaboration between partners LGC Biosearch Technologies, Bangor University, Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), Anamolbiu (APL), the Pakistani National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), and subcontractor, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST). Agri-EPI Centre are the lead partner and provide project management support to ensure the smooth running of the project and allow the rest of the consortium to focus on the technical elements of delivery.
This project is developing LGC Biosearch Technologies’ proprietary genotyping technology (called KASP) by providing thousands of new KASP markers to aid Asian rice breeding programmes and accelerate the breeding of new rice varieties with greater disease resistance.
Genomic selection relies on information from a huge number of markers distributed across the genome that can be deployed to capture and collect data that indicate the diversity of genetic characteristics within that genome. The process is much quicker and cheaper than current methods of marker assisted selection. Once extracted, the data can be used to estimate crop breeding values without the need for precise knowledge about where the exact genes are located.
The main body of work for the KASP project is based in Nepal with partners Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), among other countries like India and Pakistan. The primary goal of the project is to increase the efficiency of breeding new varieties of rice that are genetically suited to resist disease and grow a larger crop yield for farmers in Asian developing nations.
For approximately half a billion people in Asia, rice provides over 50% of the caloric supply. As such, the size and stability of the rice harvest is crucial for consistent food security.
One of the main challenges facing the rice breeding industry is that the diseases of blast and bacterial leaf blight (BLB) can cause yield losses of 80% or more. Yield losses can be devastating for the livelihoods and food security of smallholders in poor and developing countries.
This project aims to tackle this major food security issue head on. Through genomic selection, the project aims to solve this problem by identifying desirable characteristics to ensure rice crops are disease resistant from bacterial leaf blight and rice blast, while also allowing the crop to fare well in droughts and deliver high yields.
In response to the slow, arduous, and often expensive rice breeding process, the application of KASP in marker assisted selection can make the rice breeding process simpler, quicker and more cost effective across the board. What’s more, KASP offers the high number of markers needed for successful genomic selection.
Prior to KASP alternatives to field screening relied on more expensive and less efficient laboratory techniques.
Instead, this project uses thousands of new KASP markers, to increase yields by breeding new rice varieties with a much greater resistance to diseases and pests and improved tolerance to stresses.
All Asian national rice breeding programmes currently use designated DNA markers. By the time this project concludes, KASP will become the marker of choice for rice breeders due to its many benefits including its ability to:
- Provide a more diverse choice of markers (available for any cross)
- Reduce costs and achieve a three-fold increase in the size of the breeding programme
- Increase speed and reliability for breeding rice.
Improving one single rice variety through targeting desirable traits can increase harvest value by millions of pounds a year and significantly impact food security as well as the livelihoods of local rice farmers.
The industry impact
Improvement in livelihoods of rice farmers
The project will allow farmers access to rice varieties with greater disease. This has the potential to significantly increase their livelihoods through reduced crop losses and less need for expensive chemical inputs.
Improvement in developing world food security
True food security can only exist when everyone has physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. With access to food that satisfies their dietary needs, people can live active and healthy lives.
Higher agricultural production can improve food security by decreasing food prices for consumers and increasing rural incomes which ultimately contributes to greater economic development.
By helping to ensure a more reliable, disease-free rice yield, KASP genomic selection technology makes a major contribution to strengthening the fragile food security ecosystem.
The original project duration was 01/08/2017 to 31/01/2021, however the project timeframe will likely be extended after being delayed by disruptions caused by COVID-19.