Genetic approaches for a sustainable food production

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 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 biotechnological tools used in plant breeding research.
  • To predict a phenotype using molecular markers.
  • To identify candidate genes for important agronomic traits.
Required materials

Laptop, labcoat

Coordinator of the project

Andrea M. Giordano

  • PhD in Plant Biotechnology by La Trobe University studying about functional genomic of lignin biosynthesis.
  • Postdoctoral researcher at University of Viçosa of Brazil working in cell wall recalcitrant factors of sugarcane varieties to improve second generation biofuels production.
  • Postdoctoral researcher at CRAG since 2018. Holder of a Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship.
  • Her current research aims to functionally validate genes involved in fruit ripening and in Cucumber Mosaic Virus resistance in melon.
  • Vast experience in providing outreach and science education activities to undergraduate and high school students.

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.

Irma Roig

  • PhD in Plant Biotechnology by Universitat de Barcelona studying how plants detect and respond to competing neighboring vegetation.
  • Former Postdoctoral researcher at Università degli Studi of Milano working in the molecular control of seed development.
  • IRTA Postdoctoral researcher at CRAG improving horticultural crops using plant biotechnology tools.
  • Involved in outreach, science dissemination and education activities addressed to primary, high and college students.
Associated researchers

Miguel Santo Domingo

  • Degree in Biotechnology with specialization in in Biotechnology of Processes, by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).
  • Master’s Degree in Industrial and Environmental Biotechnology with specialization in Environmental Biotechnology by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) studying the application of genomics of legume plants in soil remediation, in collaboration with the University of Zurich.
  • PhD researcher at CRAG about ripening behavior in melon using genomic approaches.
  • Providing different divulgation activities, such as “Mutant Plants Workshop” for primary school students.

Marta Riera

  • Degree in Biochemistry by Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).
  • MSc in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology by Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).
  • PhD in Plant Molecular Biology by Research and Development Center (CID-CSIC), Barcelona.
  • IRTA postdoctoral researcher at CRAG working in the development of molecular markers in horticultural crop.
  • Former Postdoctoral researcher at CRAG (ABA signaling and abiotic stress Lab), Institut Pasteur (Paris, France) and CNRS (Gif-sur-Ivette, France).
  • Expertise in Plant Biotechnology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Cell Biology.
  • Vast experience in providing outreach and science education activities to undergraduate and high school students.

Núria Real

  • Degree in Genetics by the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).
  • MSc in Cytogenetics specialized on Genomics from Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB)
  • Whole-year Erasmus scholarship pursuing courses of the MSc in Molecular Biotechnology by FH Campus Wien (Vienna).
  • PhD student in the Plant Virus group studying virus resistance in melon.
  • Participation in STEM dissemination activities, such as talks at high schools, workshops for schools and congresses.

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.      
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.