In the face of global environmental change, there are concerns about the negative effects of such changes on plant growth, especially crop production. More food, however, is required owing to the rapid increase in a human population, and food quality such as nutrient content, must also be improved. Furthermore, reduction in the input of nitrogen during modern agricultural processes is needed to alleviate its impact on the environmental degradation. Thus, scientists are under pressure to provide some solutions to these global issues.
As a result of an extensive survey on the science and technology (S&T) field relevant to plant science, the Center for Research and Development Strategy of the Japan Science and Technology Agency focused on technologies in AgriBioscience as one of the priority subjects in the research and development (R&D) of plant science to solve the global issues. Then, a further investigation on technologies that will enable us to improve the adaptation and/or tolerance of plants to present and future environments and to accelerate the breeding crops was carried out.
Various types of information were collected, such as hot topics in academia, worldwide trends in the private sector, and facts and figures on both the environmental change and agricultural issues reported through governmental and non-governmental organization in order to reveal domestic and international trends and problems in S&T and its application to industry. Then, the trends and problems were compared between Japan and other countries. On the basis of the analysis, we prepared the report, STRATEGIC INITIATIVE Technology for Genomic Design of Environmentally Adapted Crops, proposing the importance of promotion of technologies in AgriBioscience in Japan. Furthermore, supplementary facts involving basic information relevant to the technologies in AgriBioscience were also reported here.
The main points of the investigation are as follows;
• Current R&D targets for breeding of crops are traits relating to high-yield, drought tolerance, nitrogen use efficiency, and the mass and quality of oil seeds. These targets reflect global environmental issues and the rapid economic growth of several developing countries. Because of the complexity of such traits, scientists have been competing to gain more scientifically comprehensive knowledge about plants and to develop relevant novel technologies.
• Agricultural countries such as the U.S., Australia, and several European countries are leading R&D in breeding. In these countries, there are good collaborative relationships between universities, governmental research institutions, and private companies, bridging the gap from basic discovery to industrial application.
• One of the main goals in current plant science is to integrate different levels of information on a plant, from genotype to phenotype, for a comprehensive understanding of the plant, particularly its mechanism of response to the environment.
• Various types of genetic information and resources have been collected by Japanese scientists. Their research activities in terms of productivity, that is, the number of papers, and impact, that is, the number of citations of a paper, are relatively high in the world, especially in the following topics: stress tolerance, herbicide tolerance, and nitrogen use efficiency.
• Generally, several agricultural countries, such as the U.S., European countries, and Australia, have been leading research activity in the field of plant science related to breeding. On the other hand, research activity in China and/or India is increasing, particularly with regard to the following topics: stress tolerance, disease tolerance, and efficiencies of nitrogen-, water-, and light use.
There are many challenging problems in S&T in AgriBioscience: how to integrate the enormous of various types of information of a plant, from genotype to phenotype, and how to apply such information effectively for the benefit of society, particularly for sustainable plant/crop production. To solve these problems, experts in plant science, agricultural science, informatics, and engineering are required to cooperate with each other to supply and interactively combine their knowledge and techniques for integration and application. Japanese researchers are also expected to contribute, or even lead, the tackling of problems through the utilization of their knowledge about various types of genetic information and resources of plants and their expertise in informatics and engineering.