Potential of Radiation in Crop Improvement

Discussed by Dr. Ahluwalia

April 23, 2009 Ludhiana

'Plant Breeding is driven by variation and radiation can effectively induce variation'. This was stated by Dr. B.S.Ahluwalia, Ex-Consultant, FAO-International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, Austria while delivering an expert lecture on 'Radiation induced mutation in crop improvement' in the auditorium of Dr. M.S.Randhawa Library, PAU. Dr. Ahluwalia said that the major objectives of Plant Breeding are to enhance production and nutrition through improving yield and quality, respectively. He elaborated on the technologies, achievements and future prospects of mutation-assisted breeding with a particular focus on horticultural crops. He said that the use of physical mutagens (radiations such as X-rays, gama-rays, UV-rays, thermal and fast neutrons) and chemical mutagens (EMS) have found varied applications for crop improvement. Dr Ahluwalia described in detail the use and benefits of radiation for producing new varieties of cereals, oilseeds crops, pulses, fruits and flowers that have added billion of dollars to the agriculture worldwide and provided food for millions. He explained results with respect to radiation-induced mutagenesis in the case of different crops such as potato, sugarcane, sweet potato, garlic, mint, chrysanthemum, orchids, banana, etc.

Giving details of the practicality of radiation-assisted crop breeding, Dr. Ahluwalia said that nearly 3000 mutagen varieties have been released so far and that more than 60% were after 1985 in the era of biotechnology in plant breeding. He mentioned that of the 2275 such varieties as many as 1072, 66 and 34 are in cereals, vegetables and legumes, respectively. He said that in terms of percentage China, India, USSR, the Netherlands, the USA and Japan account for 26.8, 11.5, 9.3, 7.8, 5.7 and 5.3% of mutagen varieties. He said that such varieties are 2, 3 and 25% in fruits, vegetables and ornamentals, respectively. Giving examples of Novaria bananas as resistant to new race of Fusarium , black segatoka and yellow segatoka, and verticillium-wilt tolerant varieties of mint, Dr. Ahluwalia said that the radiation technology has wider application in agriculture. Discussing the economic aspects of mutagen varieties, he said that the world over Japanese pear, peppermint and chrysanthemum touch 30 million, 200 million and 120 million dollars commerce. He said that radiation-induced mutation holds promise for developing dwarf indoor shrubs.

Talking about what PAU can do in this area of crop improvement; Dr. Ahluwalia said that disease indexing service can be geared-up for providing indexed disease-free cultures and protocols, checking health of plants produced by private tissue culture units and investigating health status of tissue-culture derived plants at farm level. He said that the approach of radiation mutation breeding holds promise for reducing seediness in fruits, eliminating seed shattering, changing oil composition, promoting oleic acid in rapeseed, etc. He said that radiation-mediated crop improvement can be advantageous in improving environment, reducing pesticide use and inputs such as fertilizers and water, besides complimenting alternate land use. He suggested establishing regional germplasm bank, germ plasm collection through in vitro and in vivo .

In his remarks, the PAU Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Manjit Singh Kang said that the deliberations made by Dr. Ahluwalia were quite impressive and educative to students. He said that those who work with radiation should be extra careful and use protective measures while handling them. Dr. Kang said that there are tremendous opportunities for the benefit of science in innovative crop improvement approaches.

Those who participated in the seminar included Dr. G.S.Hira, former Additional Director of Research (Agri.), Dr. A.P.S.Gill, former Professor of Floriculture, Heads and faculty members of various departments of PAU, students and research workers. Dr. Ahluwalia replied to queries by the participants and distributed CDs on tissue culture of vegetatively propagated plants. Dr. J.S.Bal, Head, Department of Horticulture welcomed the Chief Speaker and the audience while Dr. M.I.S.Gill proposed his vote of thanks. Dr. Bal said that PAU has developed gama chamber in the Department of Horticulture for the benefit of students and research workers.