What is RapidGen Platform?

RapidGen Platform is a state-of-the-art facility that contributes to enhancing genetic gains through speed breeding and modernizing crop breeding by substantially lowering the time and cost of crop varietal development. This is achieved through shortening the crop generational window by speeding up the growth and life cycle of crops. This rhythm is accelerated by the RapidGen Platform, which is a research facility composed of testbed optimization chambers, lighting controlled greenhouse bays, and a temperature-regulated light deprivation polyhouse. The facility improves regulation of temperature, light and humidity that is required for the optimum growth of any crop.

What challenges does this innovation address?

Rapid development of improved food crops is essential to feed the ever-growing population amidst the changing climate. To achieve food availability and nutrition security, facilities like RapidGen can be used by crop breeders to overcome the limitations of seasons and photoperiod to develop the elite generations in fraction of the time and cost it would take if such trials were to be done in fields.

The workings of this innovation can mimic the optimal set of conditions within these closed installations to convince a plant to grow faster at high density and to reproduce quickly. These set of conditions, also called as ‘recipes’, are crop specific-protocols to hasten the crop cycle while producing healthy, viable seeds. This innovation is all about the test bed/condition optimization to speed up the growth and life cycle of dryland crops.

Results achieved through this innovation:

Thanks to ICRISAT’s new facility and state of art infrastructure developed through RapidGen, crops with enhanced genetic gains help farmers sell quality crops. Faster breeding cycles can be achieved through shortening the crop generational window by speeding up the growth and life cycle of crops. When used with the full suite of breeding acceleration techniques, RapidGen has a potential to reduce the breeding cycle by an estimated 40% for most crops.

Partners and funders of this Innovation:

ICRISAT has collaborated with several agricultural research institutes of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), State Agriculture Universities in India and industry partners to mainstream rapid cycling of the crops for which protocols have already been standardized. This facility’s infrastructure is supported by major donors through the CGIAR initiatives— Excellence in Breeding (EiB) Platform, Crops to End Hunger (CtEH/USAID), the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland cereals (CRP-GLDC), and the Bill and Mellinda Gates Foundaten-funded project on Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA). Partners like the University of Queensland and Corteva Agriscience have provided technical and engineering support for setting up these futuristic facilities required for scaling up crop breeding pipelines.

Next steps to scale this Innovation:

RapidGen is a case of many firsts, including a first for CGIAR, the group of research institutions of which ICRISAT is a part of, which is the world’s largest agriculture research system striving to ensure a resilient, food and nutrition secure future. This innovation is now an attempt towards heralding a new era of breeding in agriculture research systems across the world. Moving forward, rapid cycling will be integrated with early generation testing using advanced technologies to take further advantages of modern methods to increase genetic gains in important crops.

This innovation has been launched and used in ICRISAT breeding operations in early 2020. The infrastructure for scaling is adaptable according to the breeding program and crop type. The scaling of these activities that RapidGen include are often conducted by researchers through controlled greenhouse or polyhouse facilities that are equipped to finely regulate temperature, light and humidity conditions. Largest of the three installations of this facility, the polyhouse can be used for over 30,000 crosses in one go.

To enhance the development of the core innovation, complementary innovations such as crop specific recipes are also collected. These are developed to convince the plants to grow faster at high density and to reproduce quickly to hasten the crop cycle while producing healthy and viable seeds that can be taken for next cycle. Protocols need to be developed as the first step before a breeding program can take advantage of facilities like RapidGen. The protocols for chickpea, groundnut, pearl millet and sorghum are already in place that can be used by ICRISAT’s research partners and collaborators, both public and private, to integrate these techniques into their modernized breeding programs. Integrating speed breeding with other modern crop breeding technologies including high-throughput genotyping, genome editing and genomic selection hold a great potential for accelerating the rate of crop improvement.

This blog is written by Victoria Clarke and Ramya Kulkarni (CRP-GLDC MEL Team).

This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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