Feeding the world in a changing climate: molecular breeding & gene editing

The Project

Can today’s agriculture and food systems feed a world population that is projected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050? This is the 21st century challenge for agriculture: to produce more and better food to feed a growing population with a smaller arable land. To achieve this goal, we will need to increase food production by 70% by 2050 in a sustainable manner.

For thousands of years, farmers have selected crops based on their visible characteristics -the phenotype-. A slow process known as conventional breeding was approached to convert plants that compete well in the wild into plants that perform well in agriculture, producing an important decrease in genetic diversity.

How can 21st century plant scientists help breeders and farmers to obtain more productive crops that, at the same time, are adapted to a changing environment? How can we solve the genetic bottleneck? The answer is in genomics research. In this project you will study the DNA of horticultural species in depth, using molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics techniques, as well as cutting-edge technologies for genome editing such as CRISPR-Cas.

You will face the challenge of identifying the melon genes underlying different phenotypes, mainly variations in the ripening process and the carotenoid content. You will need to use genetic maps and molecular markers (SSR, SNPs), extract DNA and perform PCR reactions to uncover the genetic variability behind the studied traits. You will also apply bioinformatics tools to pinpoint the unknown genes. Finally, you will design a strategy, based on genome editing, to produce a melon with the desired phenotypic qualities.

With this challenge, you will learn about genomics and you will be able to propose solutions to a real agricultural challenge -the post-harvest loss due to early ripening-, and to produce vegetables with healthier nutrients –carotenoids–.

Join this project and be part of a real agriculture case investigation!

Matching profiles

Biotechnology, genetics, biology, agriculture

Learning objectives
  • To discover the latest molecular biology and genomics tools, used in plant breeding research as well as in other disciplines that make an extensive use of the molecular biology.
  • To learn about the cutting-edge biotechnology that is behind the food we eat.
  • To think as a researcher. In particular, at the end of the project you should be able to predict a phenotype using molecular markers and to identify candidate genes for important agronomic traits.
Required materials

Labtop, labcoat

Coordinators of the project
Marta Pujol

Marta Pujol

  • PhD in Biotechnology by Universitat de Girona developing molecular markers for a biological control agent of fire blight disease.
  • Postdoctoral researcher at Plant Genetics Department of Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) developing markers for breeding Solanaceae and Cucurbitaceae species.
  • Researcher at the Plant and Animal Genomics Program at CRAG since 2008, deciphering the genetics of important agricultural traits in melon. Mainly related to ripening, fruit quality and disease resistance.
  • Teacher collaborator at different undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and participation in scientific outreach activities.
Sílvia Fornalé

Sílvia Fornalé

  • PhD in Cellular Biology and Physiology by the University of Bologna (Italy) studying the cellular transport of the anticancer drug taxol in Taxus baccata cell cultures.
  • Former Postdoctoral researcher at the IBMB-CSIC studying the transcriptional regulation of lignin synthesis in maize.
  • Former Postdoctoral researcher at CRAG (Plant metabolism and metabolic engineering program) working in maize lignocellulose bioengineering to improve bioethanol production. 
  • Currently, IRTA postdoctoral researcher at CRAG working in opium poppy breeding. Her current research aims to identify rusticity-related traits from opium poppy wild accessions and introgress them into the genetic background of elite breeding lines.
  • Expertise in Plant Biotechnology, Physiology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Cell Biology.
Associated researchers

Ana Montserrat Martin

  • Degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology by the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM).
  • PhD in Biology by the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), working on African Swine Fever virus.
  • Postdoctoral researcher at the Centro de Biología Molecular "Severo Ochoa", Madrid, working on Foot and Mouth Disease virus and HIV.
  • Postdoctoral Researcher at the Sainsbury Laboratory, John Innes Centre, Norwich, England, working on Plant Virology and RNA silencing.
  • IRTA Researcher at CRAG working on the resistance of melon to viruses.      
Carlos Mayobré

Carlos Mayobré

  • Degree in Biotechnology by the Universidad de Salamanca (USAL), studying the cross-talk between plant hormones in Arabidopsis at CIALE.
  • Master in Plant Biology, Genomics and Biotechnology by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), studying the genetics of some phenotypic traits in melon fruits at CRAG.
  • PhD researcher in genetics of aroma in melon at CRAG.
  • Monitor in “Mutant Plants Workshop” for primary school students, speaker in “Con ciencia, té” (series of short talks for the general public about science), and volunteer at Espai Social Barcelona-Prosperitat (Fundació Catalunya-La Pedrera).
Sergio Garcia Carbonell CRAG BIYSC

Sergio Garcia Carbonell

  • PhD candidate at CRAG studying the links between ethylene synthesis, aroma volatiles and respiration during melon fruit ripening.
  • Official Master’s in Plant Biology, Genomics and Biotechnology at UAB designing a fruit transient gene expression protocol.
  • Degree in Biotechnology at UPV in the ARA group with the Plant and Agroalimentary Biotechnology specialty performing a genotyping and fine mapping project.
  • Private tutor and support teacher for different academies and institutes since 2016 specialized in elementary, secondary and bachelor.
  • High proficiency (C1) in English, programming skills, 6th grade in piano in the Royal School of Music and first dan (black belt) in Judo.

Irene Villar Rúa

  • PostDoctoral Researcher at CRAG working on the resistance of melon to viruses.
  • PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Universidad de Zaragoza, working on symbiotic relations between legume and rhizobia.
  • Master in Agrobiotechnology at Universidad de Salamanca, studying the germination mechanism of sunflowers seeds.
  • Degree in Biotechnology at the Universidad de León, working on in vitro regeneration of two Populus hybrid clones.
  • Providing different divulgation activities in different areas, with different kind of public,  such as “woman in science” or “Birragoza”
The center

The Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) is an independent research institution devoted to leading-edge research in plant and farm animal biology, genetics and genomics.