They have coined the term "introgresiomics" and what it proposes is the massive use of wild species related to traditional crops in order to expand their genetic base and develop a new generation of plant varieties that are able to face the challenges of the future, explains the Valencian academic institution through a statement.
"Until now, with some notable exceptions, such as wheat and tomatoes, there has been little use of the potential of wild species for crop improvement," explains Jaime Prohens, director of the Institute for the Preservation and Improvement of Valencian Agrodiversity of the Polytechnic University of Valencia (COMAV).
Wild species are genetically much more diverse than traditional crops and many of them grow in desert or semi-desert areas or in environments where there is a presence of severe stress derived from weather and/or soil conditions (salinity, low fertility, etc.).
Furthermore, many wild species are tolerant or resistant to diseases that affect traditional crops, and others have characteristics of interest to improve the quality of the latter, such as a higher content of bioactive compounds. However, the use of wild species for genetic improvement is difficult, since wild species also have many unfavourable characteristics (low production, presence of physical defence mechanisms, such as thorns, or chemicals, such as bitter or toxic substances, etc.).
Through the development and use of introgression lines it is possible to obtain plants with typical characteristics of the crop, but which some desirable properties of the wild species. Moreover, introgression lines are a powerful tool for the genetic dissection of the features of interest.
"One of the main applications of introgresiomics is the development of more resilient varieties that can adapt to climate change." The varieties with introgressions of wild species can contribute in a very effective way to increasing production and improving the quality of the crops in a scenario of climate change, while helping move towards a more sustainable agricultural model, with greater efficiency in the use of water and nutrients," highlights Mariola Plazas, a researcher at the CSIC in the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology of Plants (IBMCP).
Introgresiomics follows a series of steps, which include the identification of wild species with desirable characteristics (for example, tolerance to drought or salinity, or resistance to diseases), and the hybridization through crossings with crops by means (when necessary) of special techniques, such as the rescue of immature embryos.
It also includes the restoration of the fertility of the hybrids when they are sterile by manipulating the number of chromosomes, crossing these hybrids and their generations several times towards the cultivated species with selection assisted by molecular markers and, finally, developing a multitude of lines that have the crop's genetic background (genome of the cultivated species), with a small fragment (introgression, hence the name) of the wild species.
The work, published in the journal Euphytica, has been carried out within the framework of the initiative "Adaptation of agriculture to climate change: harvesting, protection and preparation of wild species related to crops", which has been funded by the government of Norway and administered by the Global Crop Diversity Trust together with the Millenium Seed Bank.