What if seeds were vaccines? This was the question raised by Alison Bentley, Director of the Global Wheat Program at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and CEAT Fellow, and explored at a select workshop hosted by CEAT on Monday 22 August.
The workshop was an initial exploration to see what crop breeding could learn from the COVID-19 pandemic expedited timeframe for vaccine development and roll-out, and see how the learnings can be applied to the development and distribution of new climate-ready cereals.
The speed of COVID-19 vaccine development and roll-out provides a blueprint for focusing international co-operation into accelerated breeding of crops. Like vaccines, improved crop varieties generally take more than 10 years to reach end-users, through a combination of time for scientific discovery and innovation, development and testing, and regulatory approval. What if seed systems could follow this approach to fast-track improved seeds into the hands of farmers faced with growing food and nutritional security?
The workshop drew together vaccine, regulation, and plant breeding experts to consider the similarities and differences in the process of bringing their respective innovations to public use.
Providing insights from the COVID-19 vaccine perspective were Professor Terry Nolan and Professor Damian Purcell from the Doherty Institute; Leanne Hobbs, CEO of Sementis; and Dr Carolyn Tucek-Szabo, Senior Director of Regulatory Sciences at Moderna.
Dr Alison Bentley, Dr Daniel Mullan, Principal Wheat Breeder at Intergrain, and Dr Anne-Sophie Dielen, Director of Crop Biotechnology Policy at CropLife, gave a crop-breeding perspective to outline the process of seed development and distribution, and highlight pain points.
It was a highly fascinating discussion which brought up many parallel and recurring themes and issues, including:
- Funding models
- Flexible platforms
- Ability to leverage many years’ of R&D
- Open-source sharing of data vs IP
- Regulatory factors
- Equality of distribution
From discussions, it was clear that funding alone nor innovation in development, would be enough to solve issues in crop breeding. A whole of system approach is necessary, involving innovation and creativity along the whole process of getting seeds into farmers’ hands.
The learnings from the workshop will be used to help identify possible ways to accelerate the development of new types of crops that are needed to achieve global food security, with the possibility of more involved discussions or a conference in 2023.
If you are interested in being involved or finding out more, please get in contact with the CEAT team at [email protected].