Seeds of Innovation

Important work happening in the Capital Region is transforming the future of vegetables.

Inside the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis, Dr. Allen Van Deynze points out the progress of the genome sequencing of Moringa oleifera — a colorful stream of data points shows on his computer screen.

Moringa plant. (photo: Ann Filmer/UC Davis)

The moringa tree is an important source of nutrition in Africa and India. It stocks more vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk and more iron than spinach. The tree is native to northern India, but grows throughout tropical and subtropical regions in Asia, Africa and Latin America. With its high nutritional value and year-round harvestability, the moringa is a critical source of food for impoverished communities in developing countries. In order to capitalize on its nutritional value, multiple varieties of the moringa, specifically suited to the various climates and conditions where they are grown, are needed.

That’s where the work of Van Deynze, director of research at UC Davis’ Seed Biotechnology Center and associate director of the university’s Plant Breeding Center, comes in. Once the moringa’s genome is sequenced, Van Deynze will have a genetic map of its DNA, which tells him exactly which genes are responsible for which traits, explains Dr. Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center.

Research taking place at UC Davis, a world leader in plant science and agricultural research, is a vital player in a vast ecosystem that makes the Capital Region (Sacramento, California) one of the most influential innovative hubs in the vegetable seed industry. Eight of the world’s 10 largest vegetable seed companies are strategically located near UC Davis. Additionally, more than 80 seed industry companies are within 100 miles, and 300 are within 300 miles of the university, according to Van Deynze.

The work taking place here is of global significance, given that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that to feed a growing population, food production will need to increase 70 percent by 2050. Precious water resources, lack of arable land and food distribution challenges compound the issue — and as organisms naturally evolve, new strains of pests and diseases arise. All of which begs the question of how we develop and commercialize vegetable crops that can nutritiously feed the world.

“Plant breeding is absolutely essential,” Van Deynze says. “Today’s best varieties will fail in the next five years because of disease.”

Read the complete article online at Comstock’s

[This article, written by Jennifer Berry, was published at Comstock’s online, January 23, 2018]

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