Genomics-driven agriculture might just be the sustainable key to feeding the world

March 10, 2023 | Food Testing Lab

Improvements in science are impacting arable farming in the field. With climate and population pressures, agrigenomics aims to counter these threats by transitioning towards sustainable production processes to protect global food supply.

Historically, embedding genomics to agricultural research has been contained due to limitations in sequencing technology. But with the advance made in terms of affordability, accuracy, and speed of sequencing systems, agrigenomics is starting to be realized. Legislations in the United Kingdom and Europe are reflective of this drive, where they are permitting the use of these technologies to produce more nutritious and weather-resistant foods. 

In the process of unraveling plant complexities, two main approaches to sequencing are employed, each having its applications for various agrigenomics scenarios:

  • Long-read sequencing. This gives insight to the whole plant genome and genetic diversity of the population. It helps researchers build reference pangenomes for crops of interest. Moreover, it allows the identification of structural variations and novel genes that correspond with favorable traits, cutting short years of selective breeding timelines.

  • Short-read sequencing. This only examines fragments of the DNA and is suitable for applications that require high specificity. For instance, it can validate DNA edits that prevent unintended side effects to the crop, giving researchers confidence in their modifications. 

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Currently, long-read sequencing has not seen much throughput. It would be challenging to incorporate into studies where many seeds and microbe species must be sequenced.

However, Corteva Agriscience and PacBio are collaborating to advance its agrigenomics programmes with the most accurate sequencing technology. The aim is to establish more efficient workflows and library preparations to enable the yearly sequencing of thousands of samples for seed and crop protection research. 

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Revio, PacBio’s newest long-read sequencing system, has acquired high-throughput sequencing of both plant and microbial genomes after scaling a number of DNA samples. Instead of the common single-tube protocol, the Revio is making use of a 96-well plate-based method. Moreover, it increases the lab’s schedule flexibility by loading a subsequent run of samples while the current run is still in progress. It is also less resource-intensive as it only requires 50 percent fewer consumables compared to previous models.

In the other hand, the short read space has increased sensitivity and specificity, leading to fewer errors in reading the data. Scientists have higher confidence and modified crops can be shared with regulators sooner. 

Rapid development and increased adoption of gene editing technologies makes molecular insight on crop complexity accessible to a large pool of researchers and companies. This will only propel new discoveries and specially addressing the global concern of food insecurity.

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