Prof. R. Chandrababu, Vice Chancellor, Kerala Agricultural Univeristy, Kerala, India
Dr. George Thomas, Director, SGRF, Chennai, India

Sam Santhosh, Founder - SciGenom Group of Companies

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Crop improvement through breeding has undergone a revolutionary change in last decade with the application of technologies like marker-assisted selection (MAS), Targeting Induced Local Lesions in Genomes (TILLING) and genome editing using CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

MAS is based on DNA marker patterns that can be screened in a high throughput fashion at a very early stage of plants in a population. If the link between the molecular marker and the phenotype is well established, one can screen thousands of plants in one experiment without waiting for the plant to show the phenotype. This saves time, energy and money since only selected plants need to be grown to maturity.

TILLING has been gainfully employed for crop improvement and the best example close to home is the sheath blight tolerant mutant lines of Samba Mahsuri (BPT-5204) rice variety developed by Dr. Ramesh Sonti and others in CCMB and IIRR, Hyderabad. Since TILLING is based on conventional mutagenesis, it is considered to be substantially equivalent to conventional breeding technology. If the phenotype of interest can be visually scored, the screening is quick and easy and some success stories will be discussed.

CRISPR-Cas9 technology is a recent development where one can design and create mutations in any gene of choice in a targeted fashion. This is perhaps the most powerful breeding tool available today. Unlike TILLING where the desired phenotype is obtained by random mutagenesis, in this case the mutagenesis is driven by knowledge-based approaches and therefore, highly targeted. Since gene transfer is involved, this technology may come under regulatory framework in India (although it is permitted without regulatory approvals in the US). Refinements in the technology are aimed at leaving no footprint of gene transfer or using transient expression of guide RNA and Cas9 in plants, thereby making the usage of this technology to make mutations substantially equivalent to those made by conventional mutagenesis approaches that do not need any regulatory approvals.

This symposium comprises scientific presentations by academic and industry researchers. In addition, we are planning for a panel discussion on some aspects of the theme of the symposium.