A new research program is being supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) and Vibha Agrotech Limited to apply transgenic technologies to enhance environmental stress tolerance in cereal crops. The research is part of the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future.

The collaboration will combine ACPFG’s gene systems and technologies with the field evaluation and rice transformation capabilities of Vibha. A series of transgenic wheat and rice lines will be developed that show enhanced tolerance to drought and salinity stresses.

“A key role that Australia can play in helping to support food production is through collaboration and sharing of technological advances,” said Michael Gilbert, ACPFG’s General Manager. “The Australian Federal and South Australian Governments established ACPFG as a technology development and delivery organization. Through this support, ACPFG is now recognized internationally as a leading organization in developing and applying the latest technologies to crop improvement.”

Building global food security requires the careful evaluation of a wide range of technologies. Although genetic engineering is still controversial in many countries, it has been very successful and strongly adopted by farmers where available. This project will assess the potential of genetic engineering to enhance the performance of cereal crops exposed to environmental stress.

“We have to increase global food production by 60% by 2050, even as climate change is already affecting crop yields,” said Dr Julie Howard, USAID’s Chief Scientist in the Bureau for Food Security and Senior Advisor to the Administrator on Agricultural Research, Extension and Education. “That means we must use all the tools available to us to grow more food on less land and with less water. USAID is excited to launch this partnership and to leverage new expertise, resources and technologies to help make important cereal crops—and, ultimately, the smallholders who grow them – more resilient to climate change.”

Technologies developed in Australia will be enhanced and transferred initially to cultivars of wheat and rice that are relevant in subsistence farming practices in India. The technologies developed through this research program will also be relevant more broadly in South Asia and other areas where climate stresses impact cereal yields.