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18.5 Million Grant Will Help Bring Genomic Technology to Small Farmers

Saha, Yan and Mueller

Mueller Lab members Surya Saha, Aimin Yan and Associate Professor Lukas Mueller

For his latest bioinformatics project, BTI Professor Lukas Mueller will participate in an international collaboration headed by Susan McCouch of Cornell University. The collaboration will expedite crop breeding for five worldwide staple crops—wheat, rice, maize, sorghum and chickpea—and has recently received $18.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund the work.

The Genomic and Open-source Breeding Informatics Initiative, or GOBII, will create databases of crop breeding information and provide tools for researchers to digitally simulate the results of new plant crosses. This technology, called genomic selection, can reduce the amount of time and space needed to develop better crop varieties.

Researchers are generating millions of data points on thousands of different crop strains, but breeders need better software to access and make sense of this abundant information. The databases will link the plant’s phenotype—physical characteristics such as appearance and productivity—with their genotype—the gene variants that create these traits. The breeding tools that GOBII provides will help researchers to streamline the breeding process to create varieties that are resistant to drought and disease.

Meeting at Mueller Lab

Bioinformatics meeting of Mueller Lab at BTI

“What is really exciting about this project is that we’ll be creating a system that will manage unprecedented amounts of genotypic data and will make it all accessible for breeders,” said Mueller.

Large-scale commercial breeders of staple crops already use genomic selection to improve their products. But this project will make genomic selection available to the public sector, enabling smallholder farms to benefit from applications of the technology.

Collaborators on GOBII include Susan McCouch and Mark Sorrells, professors of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University; Qi Sun, a senior research associate at Cornell’s Computational Biology Service Unit; and Ed Buckler and Jean Luc Jannink, geneticists with the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The group is also working with plant breeders from Mexico, India and the Philippines who are affiliated with CGIAR, an international agriculture research consortium.

Learn more about the project in this Cornell Chronicle article.

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