Gene X Environment Interaction:
As discussed in a previous post, agricultural biotechnologies developed in the 1990s resulted in increased yields, but these techniques were targeted towards traits controlled by a relatively simple pathway consisting of only a handful of genes (i.e. insect and herbicide protection). However, this was not possible for complex traits such as drought resistance, which are underpinned by a more complex genetic architecture.
Improving the performance of elite crops throughout the world in a changing climate is a time consuming venture requiring large amounts of farm area. While growing potential crops in field trials provide valuable information, performance is limited to the specific environment they were grown in. This makes it incredibly difficult to benchmark their performance across different growth environments and in unpredictable future conditions. This issue is increasingly pertinent in the context of climate change.
With the warning sirens finally being registered, there is major concern over the future of food security, compounded by an estimated increase in population up to 9.7 billion people by 2050, water shortages and deforestation. Recent research predicts that without genetic technologies increasing gain in wheat, rice, maize and soybean crop yields, outputs will drop 3.1-7.4% per °C temperature rise (1).
Current breeding techniques are largely ineffective in predicting the yield of these crops when environmental conditions change from season to season, such as in response to severe drought or frost (extreme conditions that are becoming increasing prevalent with the onset of climate change). This requires increasing the number and size of field trials, creating further logistical issues such as difficult large-scale crop phenotyping and data analysis.
UP NEXT: Highlighting additional agricultural challenges, and demonstrating how advanced field phenotyping and plant physiology modelling may provide a solution to these issues.
(1) Zhao, C., Liu, B., Piao, S., Wang, X., Lobell, D. B., Huang, Y., … Asseng, S. (2017). Temperature increase reduces global yields of major crops in four independent estimates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(35), 9326 LP-9331. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/114/35/9326.abstract