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Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy (FIGS)

FIGS – a powerful tool to mine agricultural gene banks

‘FIGS’ – or the Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy – is a scientifically-proven tool that helps crop breeding programs identify useful traits in plant genetics more accurately and efficiently, improving on the limitations of more traditional approaches which are largely hit and miss.

At its core is a powerful algorithm that matches plant traits with geographic and agro-climatic information of the places where samples were collected. This allows the rapid searching of thousands of plant samples conserved in gene banks to pinpoint a number of high potential types that can meet the breeder’s strategy.

FIGS is based on the premise that the environment strongly influences natural selection, and consequently the geographical distribution of organisms. It creates ‘best-bet’ trait-specific subsets of material by passing accession-level information, especially agro-climatic site information, through a series of filters that increase the chances of finding the adaptive trait of interest.

Accessions from these areas have a higher probability of containing traits and genes of interest. From this calculation are assembled smaller subsets of genetic material that have a high potential of containing the plant traits that breeders need to develop robust crop varieties – capable of tolerating drought and extreme temperatures and resisting pests and disease. In several hundred searches delivered to date, FIGS has demonstrated that it can identify specific traits for breeders rapidly and precisely. In some cases it has identified traits that researchers have been looking for, unsuccessfully, for a number of years. For example:

  • FIGS achieved a 16% ‘success rate’ in identifying genotypes resistant to powdery mildew disease, compared to the 5 to 6% typically obtained with traditional screening methods.
  • FIGS identified the first-ever sources of resistance to the most virulent biotype of the Russian wheat aphid.
  • FIGS analysis revealed new resistance genes to mildew and aphids, that are expected to significantly improve resistance breeding programs.