SeeD: Mexico’s contribution to global food security
In a vault on a remote island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, scientists from the Global Crop Diversity Trust run humanity’s ultimate back-up facility for the world’s agricultural biodiversity. The seed or genetic resources stored in this and other genebank vaults around the world are the foundation of agriculture, food security and dietary diversity. They are the lifeblood of ongoing crop-improvement efforts around the world.
To date only a minute portion of the vast diversity in these collections has been put to practical use in modern crop breeding. Recent advancements in DNA-sequencing and phenotyping technologies have created an opportunity that did not exist just a few years ago. We are now in a position to tap into, and unlock the value of these collections for the benefit of farmers, particularly in the developing world, by assisting breeders to develop better cultivars more quickly.
The Seeds of Discovery (SeeD) project strives to capture this opportunity by invigorating maize and wheat genebanks to make them more attractive to breeders. We want to “see into seeds” (hence the SeeD acronym) to unlock the dormant genetic potential of maize and wheat genetic resources by providing breeders with a toolkit that enables their more targeted use in the development of high-yielding, climate-ready and resource-efficient cultivars.
SeeD is one of four MasAgro (Modernización Sustenable de la Agricultura Tradicional) projects funded by Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA). Spread across more than a dozen participating partner organizations, we jointly pursue four principal objectives:
- A ‘SeeD Catalog’. Characterize the native genetic diversity of maize and wheat — crops that provide some 40% of the world’s food — and make this expanding body of knowledge widely accessible to the research community to accelerate breeding progress for the benefit of future generations.
- ‘Bridging germplasm’. Make novel genetic variation more accessible to breeders by developing ‘bridging germplasm’ that carries exotic gene variants (alleles) in elite genetic backgrounds (genomes).
- Capacity-strengthening. Strengthen demand-driven and impact-oriented agricultural research capacities in Mexico through student training, a genetic-analysis service, and the provision of software tools for agricultural R&D.
- Benefit-sharing. Build ‘real-time’ pathways to share the benefits arising from the use of maize genetic resources with subsistence farmers in Mexico.
Unlocking the untapped genetic potential of maize and wheat, albeit two of humanity’s three most widely sown staple crops, can only be part of a more comprehensive strategy that should also include other crops, some of them ‘minor’ but essential for a balanced diet. It is our hope that SeeD will only be the first of several similar initiatives to unlock crop diversity for the benefit of future generations.
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Organizations participating in SeeD until now:
- BIDASEM Productora y Comercializadora de Semillas, Mexico
- CIMAT (Centro de Investigación en Matemáticas), Mexico
- CIMMYT (Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo), Mexico
- CINVESTAV (Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados), Querétaro, Mexico
- CNRG (Centro Nacional de Recursos Genéticos), Mexico
- Cornell University, USA
- DArT (Diversity Arrays Technology), Australia
- ICAMEX (Instituto de Investigación y Capacitación Agropecuaria, Acuícola y Forestal del Estado de México), Mexico
- ICARDA (Internal Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas), Syria
- INIFAP (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias), Mexico
- JHI (James Hutton Institute), UK
- ITESM (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de de Monterrey), Mexico
- LANGEBIO (Laboratorio Nacional de Genómica para la Biodiversidad), Mexico
- PIONEER Hi-Bred International, Mexico
- UAAAN (Universidad Autónoma Agraria de Antonio Narro), Mexico
- UAEM (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México), Mexico
- UdeG (Universidad de Guadalajara), Mexico
- UPFIM (Universidad Politécnica de Francisco I. Madero), Mexico
- + others in the future