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Current projections suggest that the world population will grow to around 9.2 billion by 2050. In addition, the global environment is facing climate change and shifting socio-economic conditions impact nutrition habits. In order to respond to the expected increase in demand, agricultural production should increase by about 70%.
Research must therefore make a significant contribution to the sustainable intensification and increased resilience of agriculture in order to meet the world population‘s future needs in times of scarce resources, increasingly difficult environmental conditions and limitations in input supply.
The very recent availability of full genomes provides an excellent basis for the elucidation of the genetic mechanisms that underlie even complex traits and to study the processes that drive them. Genomic research shall have a major impact on solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing agriculture today. Now, the research challenge is to establish how genes and functions of proteins and metabolites bring about changes in phenotype in order to enhance, adapt or seek superiority of the latter. As such, it is critical to identify and link the functional elements of the genome to their biological expression.
In this context, research in animal genetics and breeding, plant and crop biotechnology, plant breeding and fungal and microbial genetics increasingly overlap similarly facing growing data and large-scale data evaluation problems. The complexity of biological systems and the high-dimensionality of (noisy) genomic data and metabolomics data make it technically demanding to infer such mechanisms from data.
The greatest impact of genomics research is expected in the development and application of
- Advanced selection protocols through genomic selection/genomic prediction of highly quantitative traits and their implementation in breeding programs to enhance sustainable productivity and resilience of crops and animals.
- Methods for identification and functional characterization of major genes with high agronomic value and development of markers for selection.
- Application of modern biotech tools, including gene and genome editing to understand gene functions, to contribute to solving challenges such as abiotic and biotic stresses, product quality and productivity.
- Bioinformatics and advanced biometrical and quantitative methods for analyzing big data in genetics, genomics and breeding.
- Phenotyping of plants and animals using up-to-date tools.
- Novel approaches for integration with post-genomics research fields, such as epigenomics, proteomics and metabolomics.
For being able to develop tools and to achieve the above outlined progress multi-disciplinary research is required to create a more holistic picture of agricultural genomics by exploiting the strong relationships between research in plants, animals and microbes in combination with research in gene expression mediated metabolomic processes and modern bio-informatics and statistics.