Rice researcher Brijesh Angira uses applied molecular breeding technology to test for qualitative native rice traits. Photo by Madeline Fruge
Established in 2016 through the support of the Louisiana Rice Research Board, the LSU AgCenter molecular breeding lab focuses on integrating DNA marker technologies into the applied variety development program. AgCenter rice expert Brijesh Angira said the DNA markers improve the efficiency and accuracy of the breeding program, while saving both time and money.
Angira, who started as a research associate specialist with the AgCenter in 2017, and is now a faculty member, has two major responsibilities at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station. The first is leading the medium grain rice breeding program, and the second is integrating molecular markers into the applied rice breeding program to increase its efficiency, accuracy and speed.
The DNA marker lab contributes to every stage of the breeding cycle, from the initial crosses, marker assisted selection and line advancement to foundation seed purification. Angira said DNA marker technologies are tools that improve the efficiency of traditional breeding and increase the probability of finding a breeding line that would become a new variety.
“Historically, what we did was make crosses and advanced lines, and then tested them in the field for desired qualitative and quantitative traits, which restricted us based on space and number of lines we could test for the certain traits,” he said. “Now, we can take a small portion of a plant leaf and tell if it will be resistant or susceptible to diseases such as blast.”
According to Angira, this allows researchers to screen significantly more lines in relatively less time for the traits that are controlled by large effect genes. These traits can be fixed using DNA markers in the breeding lines even before they are tested in the field for other agronomic traits.
Traits controlled by large effect genes are easier to improve using DNA markers, chances of success are higher, and the cost is relatively low.
“It costs about 2.2 cents per data point in the marker lab where it used to be much higher when these technologies were newer and less practical to use,” he said. “Traits that are quantitative in nature and not controlled by one or a few major effect genes need a different approach called genomic prediction. This approach is implemented in the AgCenter’s rice breeding program.”
Angira said other public rice breeding programs in the United States are interested in the genomic prediction approach and may implement it in future.
Of course, the bottom line for any scientist at the LSU AgCenter’s 15 statewide research stations is improving yields efficiently and at the lowest possible cost to producers. Angira said the impacts of his research for the farmers are both direct and indirect.
Indirectly, the breeding process can use genetic markers to develop higher yielding varieties, thus improving accuracy and efficiency of trait introgression on the front end.
While directly, if farmers have issues with herbicide effectiveness and weeds, they can collect leaf samples, bring them to the lab and Angira and his team can test and provide the information to help them choose varieties for future planting and weed management strategies.