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Event Report- The 7th International Conference on Plant Genetics and Genomics

GM Crops and Genome editing: Promoting Agrobiodiversity Use for Sustainable Agricultural Development
by Ajay Pandey1, Rita Sharma1, Kutubuddin Molla2 and Ginny Antony3

1DBT-National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute, Mohali.
2ICAR-National Rice Research Institute, Cuttack.
3Central University of Kerala, Kasaragod.

The 7th International Conference on Plant Genetics and Genomics was held at the NASC Complex, Pusa, New Delhi on the theme“GM Crops and Genome Editing: Promoting Agrobiodiversity Use for Sustainable Agricultural Development” on February16.17, 2024.

The conference was organized under the Chairmanship of Prof KC Bansal, former Director of the ICAR’s National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi, and was Co-chaired by Dr. C. Viswanathan, Joint Director (Res.), ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, India.
The conference aimed at fostering discussions on enhancing the efficient use of plant genetic resources through genomics approaches for gene discovery, andfor developing high yielding GM and Genome Edited crops with efficient use of water and nutrients, and reduced dependence on agrochemicals and pesticides, and for achieving climate resilience and sustainable global food security. In addition, a special session was also organized on “Accelerating Genetic Improvement of Millets for Sustainable Agricultural Development”.

The inaugural ceremony began with the welcome address by Prof KC Bansal, followed by remarks from Dr. Geraint Parry, President of the Global Plant Council, Chairman’s remarks by Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Chairman of ASRB, and inaugural address by the Chief Guest, Dr. Trilochan Mohapatra, Chairperson of PPVFRA and Former Secretary of DARE & DG, ICAR. The vote of thanks was presented by Dr. Rita Sharma, from BITS, Pilani and DBT-NABI, Mohali.

This was a very focused conference, and highlighted the importance and needof the development of GM crops and use of genome editing for sustainable development of agriculture in the 21st century. It covered various scientific aspects, right from the basics to advanced applications as investigated by researchers in different crops including Rice, Wheat, Indian Mustard, Potato, Pigeon pea, Millets, Banana, model plant species, wild rice – Oryza coarctata, Chenopodium quinoa, etc. for achieving global food security, better nutrition, health benefits, climate resilience and environmental sustainability.
The 2-day conference was attended by about 200 young scholars, early career researchers, senior scientists and faculty members belonging to various fields of plant molecular biology, genetics and agri-biotechnology. The participants had the privilege of listening to the highly experienced and renowned speakers drawn from different national as well as International Institutions.

Prof. Bing Yang, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA delivered his Keynote address on the topic “Genome-Editing to Dissect Rice Susceptibility and Resistance to Bacterial Blight”. The other Keynote speakers who spoke at the event were Dr. Leena Tripathi, Director, IITA, Tanzania, Africa; Prof. KC Bansal, Former Director, ICAR-NBPGR, New Delhi; Dr. Ashwani Pareek, Executive Director, DBT- NABI, Mohali; Dr. C Tara Satyavathi, Director, ICAR- IIMR, Hyderabad; Dr. Ram Kaundinya, Advisor, Federation of Seed Industries of India (FSII); Dr. Arvind Kapur, Distinguished Fellow, TERI, New Delhi and Dr. Geraint Parry, President, Global Plant Council, UK.

Dr. Debojyoti Chakraborty, Principal Scientist, CSIR-IGIB, New Delhi delivered the opening Special Talk on: Navigating the translational route of gene editing therapies in India.

In addition, there were invited talks by the eminent scientists and world-class experts in their field of research: Dr Anindya Bandyopadhyay, CIMMYT, Mexico; Dr. S Gopala Krishnan and Dr S Naresh Kumar from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi; Dr. Mukesh Jain, JNU, New Delhi; Dr. Girdhar Pandey, Delhi University, South Campus, New Delhi; Dr Tapan K Mondal and Dr Rohini Sreevathsa from National Institute of Plant Biotechnology, New Delhi; Dr. Sanjeev Sharma, Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla; Dr. Naveen Bisht and Dr Jitender Giri, DBT-National Institute of Plant Genomics Research, New Delhi; Dr Siddharth Tiwari, DBT-National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute, Mohali; Dr S. K. Mangrauthia, ICAR-Indian Institute of Rice Research, Hyderabad; Dr. M Mehanathan, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad; Dr V. Mani and Dr Wricha Tyagi. ICRISAT, Hyderabad; Dr Gaurav Zinta, Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, Palampur; and Dr Vilas Parkhi, Mahyco, Aurangabad.

The various technical sessions Chairs included Dr Ashok Singh, Director, IARI; Dr NK Singh, NIPB; Prof.Deepak Pental, Delhi University; Prof. KC Bansal, Former, Secretary, NAAS; Dr. DK Yadava, ADG (Seed), ICAR; Dr Tara Satyavathi, Director, IIMR, Hyderabad; Dr Anil Grover, Delhi University; Dr Ashwani Pareek, Executive Director, NABI, Mohali; Dr RC Bhattacharya, Director, NIPB, New Delhi and Dr S. Raghavan, Executive Director, Federation of Seed Industries of India, New Delhi.

The conference covered the current state of Genome Editing and observed that since the discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 based genome editing technology in 2012, the world is witnessing an unprecedented revolution in its use for various applications for genetic modification and improvement of different life forms. It was observed that since Government of India has issued guidelines and developed SOPs easing the norms for bio-safety assessment for developing genome-edited crops in 2022, more opportunities have opened up for research and development in this field, and therefore, this conference turned out to be the need of the hour. The Gene Editing technology enables the manipulation of targeted genes in a precise and efficient manner in many organisms and cell lines, and has become indispensable for all life science researchers globally, ranging from agriculture to pharma to health sectors. In addition, the environmental release of GM mustard again in 2022 has brought encouragement and motivated young researchers of the country to take the agenda of sustainable development of agriculture forward by utilizing the frontier science-based technologies. The current status and future perspectives of using the GM route and genome editing tools and technologies for sustainable utilization of agrobiodiversity for crop improvement were discussed a great deal.

Based on discussions during the conference, the following major recommendations emerged:
Development of a mission-mode but focused project on genome editing on prioritized crops and traits for achieving climate resilience including multiple stress resistance to emerging biotic and abiotic stresses, integrated with high yield and nutritional enhancement.

– Original research and innovations to be taken up by young scholars and faculty in a multi-disciplinary mode.
– Discovery of novel genes and alleles to be taken up on priority for major traits related with climate resilience, high yield, plant type and domestication of wild crop species.
– Characterization and evaluation of entire GenBank collections is need of the hour using genomics and pan-genomics approaches for identifying suitable material for novel gene discovery.
– Much-needed emphasis to be placed on developing superior varieties and hybrids through genetic engineering and genome editing in pulse and oilseed crops.
– Development of novel methods of CRISPR reagents delivery and genetic transformation in elite crop varieties is an absolute requirement to make the desired progress with genome editing.
– Encourage partnership among different stakeholders, public and private laboratories including the lead international institutions for translational research and product development.
– Democratize gene editing technology by making it accessible to small and medium sized seed companies at affordable cost, and develop models to provide technical support to them.
– Encourage large scale investment by public and private sectors for wider deployment of genome editing technologies for the benefit and welfare of Indian farmers.

It was highlighted that regulators to keep abreast with latest research findings for making well-considered and efficient, science-based decisions. Organize capacity building workshops for young researchers and plant breeders, and conduct educational, awareness programmes for the public at large for taking the science to society, including the legislators.

The valedictory function of the conference was held on February 17, 2024 and chaired by Prof. KC Bansal, in presence ofthe Conveners Dr. Ajay Pandey, Dr. Rita Sharma, Dr. Ginni Antony, and Dr. Sanjay Bajaj, CEO and Managing Director, Glostem.

Prof. Bansal, in his valedictory address stressed upon the importance of the genome editing in sustainable development of the agriculture sector, and motivated the young scholars, researchers and scientists. He called upon them to devote enough time and efforts in basic understanding and developing innovative solutions to the current problems facing agriculture using the frontiers of molecular science and technology, including GM and Genome Editing approaches.

The Best Poster award sponsored by Glostem Private Limited was won by Ms. Tejaswi Avuthu, from ICRISAT, Hyderabad, India. The ten bestposter presenters received each the e-books subscription worth Euro 400 from the Springer Nature.

The conference was organized by the Chandigarh based Glostem Private Limited, and supported by The Global Plant Council, Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII), Rasi Seeds, and Springer Nature.