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APSA/WorldVeg Vegetable Breeding Consortium: A new chapter in a long relationship

The Asia & Pacific Seed Association (APSA)/World Vegetable Center Vegetable Breeding Consortium held its inaugural workshop on 10-11 May 2017 at WorldVeg headquarters in Shanhua, Taiwan. Thirty-one participants from 20 companies across the region joined 35 WorldVeg staff for discussions, intensive seminars on the Center’s breeding work and other research, and in-field evaluations of tomato, pepper, and cucurbit crops.

“A long relationship built on trust has set a good foundation for this new consortium,” said Marco Wopereis, WorldVeg Director General. Although APSA and WorldVeg have met for periodic workshops since the mid-2000s and have conducted some joint research, there has been no formal structure for interaction until now.

The new consortium is designed to provide what its members most need: Participating seed companies get early access to new breeding lines and the opportunity to interact with WorldVeg experts on upstream research. In return, WorldVeg receives feedback about the performance of its material in various locations and in commercial seed production—vital information that can help the Center demonstrate its value to donors.

Dr. Wopereis emphasized the importance of the private sector in the vegetable value chain. “Our work has zero purpose if farmers can’t get their hands on seed,” he said. “Your companies are the essential links.”

Heidi Gallant, APSA Executive Director, encouraged APSA members to interact with WorldVeg breeders and use the consortium as a network to build on advances in vegetable breeding. David Johnson, new WorldVeg Deputy Director General – Research, briefly explained the Center’s new flagship research structure, which focuses on discovery research leading to innovations that can be piloted, and then to products that can be scaled. “We need partners like you for piloting and scaling,” he said. “That’s how we can increase our capacity for science with impact.”

Research: Breeding and plant protection

Speakers in the first session of the workshop reviewed the Center’s research in vegetable breeding and gene discovery. Head of Biotechnology Roland Schafleitner discussed progress in mapping bacterial wilt resistance genes in tomato. Tomato Breeder Peter Hanson updated participants on the WorldVeg breeding program for fresh market and dual-purpose (fresh consumption and processing) tomato for the lowland tropics and highland mid-altitude regions. Interest in processed tomato products is increasing worldwide, he said, but the lack of suitable processing varieties prevents farmers from exploiting this market opportunity. Pepper Breeder Sanjeet Kumar and Cucurbit Breeder Narinder Dhillon reported on their research activities. APSA members took special note of Bitter Gourd Open Field Days, a two-week field trial for bitter gourd held at WorldVeg East and Southeast Asia in Thailand during which companies receive individual attention to address cucurbit breeding questions.

The second session covered plant protection issues. Entomologist Srinivasan Ramasamy discussed the spread of the South American leaf miner (Tuta absoluta) and fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), noting the need to understand the taxonomy and bioecology of pests to develop effective management strategies. Breeder Mohamed Rakha updated participants on the Center’s breeding work for insect resistance. WorldVeg breeders are aiming to combine insect and disease resistance in tomato by using wild relatives with the appropriate traits in their breeding programs; they recently made an important breakthrough in incorporating insect resistance based on trichomes (plant hairs).

According to David Johnson, the new consortium can be a platform to examine larger issues of maintaining resistance—a precious resource that can lost due to poor agronomic practices, such as many farmers in one area planting monocultures of the same variety. “We need to think about ways to ‘rotate resistance’ across a region,” he said. “The pool of wild relatives with resistance genes is limited. We have to protect the resistance we’ve all spent so much time and treasure to develop.”

All breeders and seed companies must address the challenges of dealing with the rapidly evolving virus landscape, Virologist Lawrence Kenyon told the group. Seed health testing was discussed as a possible point for consortium collaboration and training. Yung-kuang Huang and Sophie Chou from the WorldVeg Genebank gave a quick tutorial on the use of the genebank’s databases and procedures for ordering seed samples. Researcher Willie Chen discussed his studies on salt-tolerant rootstocks for tomato. Although only a few companies in the consortium currently produce rootstock seed, interest in grafting is growing across Asia.

Performance in the field

On the second day of the workshop, field tours gave participants a closer look at the performance of WorldVeg breeding material. The tomato team—Peter Hanson, Grace Hsu, and Shu-fen Lu—showed preliminary yield trials of bacterial wilt resistant fresh market and dual purpose tomato lines. Pepper experts Sanjeet Kumar and Susan Lin demonstrated the Center’s International Sweet and Chili Pepper Nurseries. Cucurbit specialists Narinder Dhillon and Vicky Cheng hosted an advanced yield trial of Japanese-style cucumber.

Consortium members welcomed the opportunity to examine the lines and consider how they might be of use in their own breeding programs. “Although we are all competitors, we’re working on similar things,” said Caleb Orchard, Tomato Pre-breeder from East-West Seed Co. “Having the chance to meet and talk with breeders from other companies is really useful.”

After the field tours, WorldVeg Nutrition Researcher Andrew Sheu discussed different ways nutrition messages can be incorporated into companies’ extension services and promotions. David Johnson reviewed issues related to IP rights for WorldVeg genebank accessions and improved lines. Consortium Coordinator Greg Luther stressed the importance of feedback to sustain the consortium, and the group discussed the best methods for collecting and sharing data on WorldVeg germplasm use.

WorldVeg staff then presented concepts for special projects for consortium members to consider, and solicited ideas from members about their some of their specific needs and concerns.

In closing, Marco Wopereis expressed his delight at the reinvigoration of the Center’s relationship with APSA. “We are all committed to this and there are some big issues that we can work on together,” he said. “Consider us your research organization.”

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To learn more about the benefits the consortium offers and how to register:

Story: Maureen Mecozzi
Photos: Vanna Liu, Amy Chen, Maureen Mecozzi

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Preliminary yield trials for fresh market and dual purpose tomato.

Radhakrishna Maiya (left) and Akash Choudhary from Welcome Crop Science Pvt. Ltd. evaluate tomato lines.

Important sources of genes for tomato color.

Cherry tomatoes are popular for the fresh market.

Heidi Gallant, APSA Executive Director: “This consortium can bring many benefits to APSA members.”

APSA members were attentive participants during the seminar sessions.

WorldVeg Cucurbit Breeder Narinder Dhillon has developed close ties with seed companies across the region.

David Johnson, WorldVeg Deputy Director General – Research.

Scenes from the APSA/WorldVeg Vegetable Breeding Consortium Inaugural Workshop

Manish Bhatnagar, Head of R&D at Enza Zaden India.

WorldVeg Director General Marco Wopereis.

Former WorldVeg staff member Ah-Zheng (now with Clover Seeds) and Teresa Liang catch up over coffee.

Dian Catur Prayantini, PT BISI International (left) and Shashi Kumar Kataria, Kumar Bioseeds & Agro Products

At the WorldVeg International Circle

Workshop coordinators Mandy Lin and Greg Luther, from the WorldVeg Capacity to Innovate team.

Gopalkrishna Hegde, Noble Seeds Pvt. Ltd.

Researcher Ruby Hsiao shares a laugh with Shashi Katania of Kumar Bioseeds & Agro Products.