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Biodiversity - Integrated Gene Management - Crop Improvement

The world’s agro-ecosystems  are facing more challenges than ever before from the impacts of climate change and threats to natural resources, including water shortage, the annual loss of millions of hectares of arable land, and increasingly virulent pests and diseases. There are also impacts associated with a growing global population – expected to reach nine billion by 2050. 

Genetic improvement of crop plants has emerged as the most cost-effective and powerful means of meeting these demands, strengthening our capacity to maintain global food security.

ICARDA’s BIGM Research Program works through various sub-themes focused on enhancing agricultural productivity, production stability, and nutritional quality through high-yielding and stress-tolerant varieties.

Following an integrated approach, the Program uses conventional, molecular and participatory approaches across multiple locations and evaluations in collaboration with NARS, resulting in practical outputs that contribute to poverty alleviation and food security.

Examples of related training courses:

  •  Best Practices for handling genetic resources and genebank management;

  • Classic and molecular approaches in wheat breeding;

  • Food Legume Breeding;

  •  Wheat variety maintenance and quality seed production;

  •  Advanced Biometrical Techniques in Crop Improvement;             

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) of Cereals and Legumes

  • Variety Maintenance and Small-Scale Seed Enterprise Development and Management

Research program Director: Dr. Michael Baum

Research topics:

Genebank resources and management:

The major activities of ICARDA's Genetic Resources Section (GRS) are seed collection, acquisition, ex situ conservation, regeneration, characterization and distribution of genetic resources of ICARDA’s mandate crops: barley, wheat, food legumes (lentil, chickpea and faba bean) and feed legumes (vetch and grass pea).

A new methodology, known as Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy (FIGS), has been developed to better target the utilization of genetic resources. GRS also conducts pre-breeding activities (e.g. introgression of genes from wild wheat and Aegilops species) to help broaden the genetic base.

Crop Improvement:

At ICARDA, crop improvement focuses on conventional and biotechnological methods, including participatory plant breeding and the dissemination of improved germplasm within a production systems context.

In biotechnology, our research covers three broad areas: tissue culture, molecular marker applications, and transformation technologies. Stress-tolerant sources are analyzed for genetic diversity and functional diversity at DNA and RNA levels. Several thousand barley, wheat and chickpea accessions, including wild relatives, have been genotyped in recent years.

Within the CGIAR Generation Challenge Program, reference collections have been established for barley, wheat, chickpea, lentil, and faba bean in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, CIMMYT and ICRISAT. The reference collections will be used for association mapping after detailed genotyping and phenotyping for drought-related traits.

Based on the mapping and QTL results, appropriate crosses will be made among mapping lines from different populations to pyramid drought, cold and heat tolerance genes and to derive markers that can be used for marker assisted selection applications.

ICARDA also genetically engineers crops. Agrobacterium-mediated transformation systems have been developed for chickpea, lentil, and wheat. The main interest is in improving drought, heat and salinity tolerance. A bio-containment facility has been built to enable testing of genetically engineered plants while ensuring environmental safety.

Seed Systems

ICARDA is the only CGIAR Center with a fully-fledged Seed Section. The primary objective is to strengthen national seed systems to improve seed supply to farmers throughout the dry areas, using both formal (public and private sectors) and informal (farmer or community-based) seed systems.

The Seed Section is involved in a broad range of activities from designing alternative seed delivery systems to the harmonization of regulatory and policy frameworks for the development of a competitive seed industry. It also provides consultancy services on request to national, regional and international organizations on issues related to seed program development.

ICARDA’s Seed Section is recognized as a center of excellence on seed issues and its experience can help inform seed policy reform, promote seed trade and ensure seed security in dry areas. The Seed Section acts as the Secretariat for the West Asia and North Africa Regional Seed Network.

Pest Management

Each year ICARDA conducts routine surveys in dryland areas for fungal and viral diseases and for insect pests in collaboration with NARS to determine outbreak dynamics, and to provide farmers with early warning of pest and disease outbreaks.

Fungal pathogens and insect pests are characterized using differential genotypes and molecular techniques, to generate information on pest diversity, and to help breeders target pest populations that show an ability to overcome resistance genes.

 Host plant resistance is the cornerstone of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) options for the control of diseases, insect pests and parasitic weeds. It is environmentally friendly, practical, and economically acceptable to farmers.

Biological control is an important component of IPM at ICARDA, with an emphasis on the use of natural enemies of insect pests. For example, in collaboration with the University of Vermont, NARS, and CABI Bioscience, ICARDA has been developing biopesticides using entomopathogenic (insect killing) fungi for the control and management of Sunn pest in wheat.

Seed health - International Nurseries

Through its International Nurseries and genetic resource activities, ICARDA provides NARS with large numbers of germplasm accessions each year. Our various breeding programs send segregating populations, elite lines, yield trials and disease nurseries to NARS for testing, and subsequent selection for their local environments.

However, seeds are a major potential vehicle for pest spread. The Seed Health Laboratory was established in 1982 to test that seeds are free from seed-borne pathogens and pests, and to ensure seed health quality in all seed produced and distributed by ICARDA.

The laboratory conducts various activities as part of an overall strategy for plant disease control: testing for seed certification, quarantine pests, production of healthy crops, evaluation of plant value, advisability and effectiveness of seed treatment and storage quality. ICARDA’s Seed Health Laboratory is recognized as a reference laboratory for the CWANA region.

For more information:

Contact Person:

Dr. Michael Baum


ICARDA office: Amman, Jordan