Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. announced that the US Agency for International Development, or USAID, has expanded its grant to the company to develop traits in rice for Asia. Based on Ceres’ success to date, USAID will provide an additional $3.5 million to Ceres over the next four years to extend field trialing and development of the company’s biotech traits and trait stacks in rice. The company will also help foster the development of local expertise in biotech traits in rice within India.
The USAID grant to Ceres is administered in alignment with the Feed the Future Research Strategy, which is a component of Feed the Future, the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative.
Since 2009, Ceres has worked with USAID, which delivers economic and humanitarian assistance on behalf of the US government, under a $3.0 million grant to increase rice yields, especially under stress conditions and on poor soils. India is expected to become the world’s most populous nation, but its crop yields lag behind other countries at 58th in the world. To increase cereal crop production capabilities in India and other countries in Asia, more successful breeding and trait development programs are needed.
The new USAID funding will extend Ceres’ trait work in rice for four more years. Ceres researchers will focus specifically on combining its best high-yield and stress-tolerance genes into stacks, which can amplify the benefits of individual traits. Ceres will also continue to collaborate with a local Indian seed company to cross the best traits and trait stacks into commercial rice types adapted to the subcontinent. Work under the grant will begin at Ceres’ facility in Thousand Oaks, California and through a collaboration partner in China. Evaluations of parental breeding lines are now underway in India. Subject to regulatory approval, field evaluations of the first commercial hybrids with the Ceres traits could begin as early as mid-2013.
Steve Bobzin, PhD., Senior Director of Technology Planning, Protection and Acquisition at Ceres, and co-author of the grant proposal, said that the performance of traits and trait stacks in rice is also a good indicator of performance in other grass species, such as sorghum, switchgrass and miscanthus.
We expect that the evaluation of many of these trait stacks in rice will have the additional benefit of accelerating their development in our core energy crops.—Steve Bobzin