By Prossy Nandudu
Ugandan scientists are considering mutation breeding technology to address persistent crop challenges such as pests and diseases, low yields, nutritional deficiencies, productivity and also effects of climate change such as increase in temperatures.
Mutation breeding is a method that uses physical radiation or chemical means to induce spontaneous genetic variations in plants so as to have new plants.
This was revealed by Dr Helen Apio from the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) while addressing science journalists on Mutation as the latest technology in plant breeding.
The monthly bio cafe was organised by the Science Foundation for livelihoods supported by the Program for Biosafety Systems and the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium supported by the Program for Biosafety Systems on Friday at Fairway Hotel Kampala.
Apio explained that through this breeding process, plants are exposed to radiations such as Gamma rays, X-rays, Alpha beta particles among others. The other type of radiation is chemical mutagenesis, where c chemical reagents are applied onto a plant to cause change within a plant.
The other option is the space breeding, which according to Apio, is when plants are sent to space , are exposed to cosmic rays to produce new plants with a desired trait and this particular technique has been used by China since 1987, which has led to the release of 66 crop varieties.
Other countries applying the mutation breeding technology include India, Japan, Russia, and the targeted crops are rice, wheat, barley, soybeans, and maize including flowers among others.
By 2022, there are 3402 varieties produced through mutant technology and are being managed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Although the technology has higher economic returns because it speeds up the development of new crop varieties, uses free rays from increasing heat from the sun, it will take time for Uganda to introduce the technology, because of lack of infrastructure.
So far most crop challenges are being managed through conventional breeding, genetic engineering, although for mutation breeding, there will be a need for infrastructure that should be provided by the government.
In his remarks at the event, the executive director of SCIFODE, Isaac Ongu, tasked the Atomic Energy Council that sits in Ministry of Energy to support the agriculture sector to scale up the technology, adding that unlike genetic engineering that needs a regulation in Uganda for its products to be released to the public, products from mutation breeding are globally accepted and most of these have already been released to farming communities.
He added that the Atomïc energy council, could be focusing on only energy, and health through the Xray components, but it is high time they too considered agriculture so as to benefit from the new technologies being fronted by crop research scientists.