This strand of work focuses on crop improvement through conventional and biotechnological methods. This includes 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 is also genetically engineering 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.