Spotlight on ICARDA
The international center for agricultural research in the dry areas (ICARDA) is one of 15 CGIAR centers that jointly represent a global research partnership for a food secure future, dedicated to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security, and improving natural resource management. The ICARDA genebank is the fourth largest repository of plant diversity in the world, storing 152,216 accessions of which 60% represent rare specimens of landraces or wild relatives. On the 18th of May 2022, ICARDA inaugurated its new building in Morocco in the presence of His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Sadiki, Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture. This state-of-the-art facility stores one of the world's most unique and extensive collections of wheat, barley, chickpeas, faba beans, and lentils. Research into this genetic material forms the basis of breeding programs that aim to deliver domestic alternatives to the widely imported staple crops under pressure today.
Final multiplication of landraces
Check trial of wheat with clear differentiation between spring and non-spring types
Under the AGENT project, ICARDA contributes its diversity of germplasm stored in its genebank, but also its knowledge of genebank operations gain through its global leading role and model example of the community at large.
Four ICARDA scientists participate in the AGENT project. Filippo M. Bassi leads the ICARDA’s team and also WP4 activities. Filippo M. Bassi is a principal investigator charged with the ICARDA's Durum Wheat Breeding Program, which aims to deliver superior varieties capable of withstanding the whims of climate change using the latest genomics approaches. He was the recipient of the 2017 OLAM Prize for Innovation in Food Security for the release of heat-tolerant durum wheat varieties adapted to the conditions of the Senegal River Basin. He is a member of the Wheat Initiative’s Scientific Steering Committee, which oversees the Expert Working Group in Durum Wheat. Dr. Bassi holds a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics from North Dakota State University in Fargo (United States), and a master’s degree in plant biotechnology from the University of Reggio Emilia in Italy and the University of Adelaide in Australia. To date, his efforts have led to the release of some 38 varieties in 16 developing countries (Algeria, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). He has authored 4 book chapters and over 35 ISI articles, including the 2020 Crop Science Society of America Outstanding Paper Award. His expertise in genomics is what he contributes to AGENT to guide the whole team to deliver statistical packages capable of helping users identify the most useful accessions for their needs.
“This is an inspiring project to truly bring together the rich diversity of the genebank to the needs of breeders to develop better varieties capable of withstanding the whims of the changing climates”, he says about AGENT, “and it is an honor for me to lead an outstanding team of statisticians to really make the project vision a reality”.
Zakaria Kehel is leading Task 4.3 of AGENT. He is a principal investigator leading the genebank team of ICARDA. He is biometrician and leads the development and implementation of ICARDA’s Focused Identification of the Germplasm Strategy, a methodology that has now been adopted by the genebank community at large. He also conducts biometrics research, statistical genetics, and breeding data management. Previously, he was a senior biometrician at Bayer Crop Science in Belgium and a biometrician at the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement in Mexico. He holds a Ph.D. from the School of Agricultural and Forestry Engineering at the University of Córdoba in Spain.
“Seed stored at genebanks is of great importance and data related to it makes it even more useful. AGENT project works toward putting standards in place for phenotypic and genomic data related to accessions and unifies ways of mining and analyzing such information to increase its use.”
Andrea Visioni is supporting ICARDA’s activities under WP2 and WP3. He is a scientists focusing on the physiology and pre-breeding of cereals at International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). He is also in charge of the ICARDA-CIMMYT precision phenotyping platform based in Morocco. He graduated in vegetal biotechnology the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and completed a PhD in plant breeding with honors at the University of Lleida in 2012. Dr. Andrea Visioni has more than 10 years’ experience in cereal pre-breeding, breeding and research for developing countries. Experienced in classical and molecular approaches to cereal pre-breeding and breeding, his research focuses on abiotic and biotic stress response, cereal quality improvement, high throughput phenotyping and plant physiology. Dr. Visioni is also the author of several research papers and book chapters.
“As cereal pre-breeder it is a honor and a pleasure to have the opportunity of participating in a project like AGENT. The identification of germplasm with increased tolerance of both abiotic and biotic stresses is crucial to meet the future needs of the word population in terms of food security.”
Meryem Zaim has been hired as research assistant to deliver on ICARDA’s activities under WP3, 4, and 5. She has recently completed her PhD in plant biotechnology and breeding from Mohammed V University in Rabat and a master’s degree in biotechnology from the Hassan II University in Casablanca. She has published extensively on the importance of introducing the diversity of genebank collections into modern breeding and on the use of genomic tools to enhance drought tolerance.
About the AGNET project she says: “AGENT creates a large network for exchanging and deploying genetic resources. This will boost our capacity to discover better diversity, giving breeders faster access to it, to help solve the many issues of climate change stresses on crops” she adds “it’s a great opportunity for me to be part of this important project”.