Global cereal initiative promises long term benefits

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Rice, Maize

A new scientific programme promises to transform the development of
the planet's three most important crops: rice, wheat and maize.

The joint venture between the new lab at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico and the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) aims to reduce the time needed to develop new crop varieties and benefit other crops that have not yet received significant research investment.

"After several years of talking about a common platform for the development of new rice, wheat or maize varieties, we are now ready for real-world implementation,"​ said IRRI director general Robert S. Zeigler.

"Because all three are cereals and so share a range of common characteristics we expect it to reduce the cost of such research. And, as we expand our data coverage, research in areas such as natural resource management and climate change will also benefit from our combined capacities."

The IRRI-CIMMYT alliance is focused on harnessing science to provide the food industry with improved access to new technologies that will make them more productive.

Scientists at the new joint facilities are already working on the development of a single crop information system and comparative biology infrastructure for rice, wheat and maize that could assist in the development of new crop varieties.

The three staples provide 60 per cent of global food needs annually, and cover more than 70 per cent of the planet's productive cropping land.

"We're very pleased that the IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance - established just a year ago - is already achieving such important progress,"​ said CIMMYT director general Masa Iwanaga. "The efficient and effective management of information, and vitally important databases, is crucial to the ongoing development of new crop varieties."

The scientists believe that the collaboration will permit new kinds of comparative biology research to be conducted in collaboration with international partners. Bioinformatics specialists Guy Davenport from CIMMYT and Richard Bruskiewich from IRRI for example said that rice forms an ideal model for this research because of its small, sequenced genome.

"In addition, maize represents an excellent platform for trait studies due to its outbreeding nature and long history of substantial public and private sector investment. Finally, wheat represents a complementary cereal model by virtue of its relatively close relationship to rice and extensive genetic information."

The new lab and research programme were officially launched on Monday via a video conference link between IRRI and CIMMYT. This is the first major output of an alliance between IRRI and CIMMYT that was formally established last year.

Total world cereal demand is forecast to reach 2,015 million tonnes in the 2005/06 growing season, up 10 million tonnes from the estimated level in 2004/05. World cereal trade in 2005/06 could reach nearly 236 million tonnes, three per cent down from the 2004/05 volume, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Related topics: Science

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