The mandate for the Institute among others includes the genetic improvement of root and tuber crops such as cassava, yam, sweetpotato, cocoyam, potato, sugar beet, ginger and other minor root crops. These crops have genetic bottlenecks that impact on capacity for genetic improvement of these crops. Issues such as poor sexual reproduction due to historic vegetative propagation, long growing cycles, and lack of desirable traits in particular cultivars necessitate the use of biotechnology approaches for the benefit of resource poor farmers. The broad research goals of the programme include producing improved varieties of root and tuber crops in terms of yield, resistance to diseases and various abiotic factors, improved nutritive and post-harvest qualities and possible elimination of undesirable traits from our mandate crops.

The Biotechnology Programme has three main laboratories including a Cell and Tissue Biology facility that serves also as a germplasm repository. The programme also has a Molecular Biology laboratory for molecular breeding and attached to this is a Disease Diagnostic component for viral and pathological research. The third laboratory is the Trait Profiling facility which conducts phenotyping of root crops for important quality traits such as beta carotene, dry matter, starch quantity and quality among others.

The Programme has five major projects of research including Molecular Breeding and Diagnostics, Genetic Modification, In vitro Conservation and Tissue Culture Techniques, Fermentation and Microbial Biotechnology and Bioinformatics and Communication in Biotechnology where focus is on protocol, technology and trait development.

Molecular Breeding and Diagnostics: research activities include molecular breeding through marker assisted breeding, marker-assisted recurrent selection and genomic selection using SSR and SNP markers for biotic stress, abiotic, productivity and food quality traits. The Trait Profiling laboratory supports the phenotyping of root and tuber crops for important quality parameters. Disease Diagnostics research involves development of viral and other diseases using molecular tools for identification, monitoring and early warning systems and understanding of basis for resistance to the major diseases.

Genetic Modification: research activities include development of plants using biotechnology approaches. Confined field trials and biosafety research and compliance in the root and tuber crops are among  activities that are being conducted. The programme has a biosafety level 2 screenhouse and a modern confined field trial site for contained and confined research and in regulatory trials with biotechnology products.

In vitro Conservation and Tissue Culture Techniques: research activities include the use of cell and tissue biology in the improvement of crops with such actions as in micropropagation, embryo rescue, phytosanitation through meristem tip culture, massive production and distribution of clean planting materials to farmers and development of low cost technologies for cell and tissue biology. Other activities such as in vitro conservation of root and tuber crops is an activity in development.

Fermentation and Microbial Biotechnology: research activities include research into development of fermentation products using root and tuber crops substrates. It also involves the manipulation of useful microbes in the improvement of root and tuber crops productivity.

Bioinformatics and Communication in Biotechnology: research activities are in development and they include the development of crop databases such as www.cassavabase.org and breeding management system (BMS) and data storage. Development of genomic libraries and data analysis of genetic data are also in development. Electronic data capture for all field and laboratory activities is being implemented for better efficiency and improved accuracy in data handling. Due to the need to give appropriate information on the benefits and risks of biotechnology, the programme is developing communication briefs on different aspects of biotechnology.

Achievements

NRCRI’s R&D programmes are characterized by a continuing integration of the novel crop improvement strategies, molecular breeding (including genetic transformation). The Institute collaborates actively with international agricultural research centers and several advanced laboratories and participates in several multi-country projects.  NRCRI, with its recent inception of a confined field trial of genetically modified cassava has become the first institute in Nigeria to be so accredited.

DR. CHIEDOZIE EGESI
Assistant Director/Programme Coordinator
chiedozie.egesi@nrcri.gov.ng