Plants are being intentionally radiated in a effort to speed up evolution to develop better varieties to feed a hungry planet.
The 80-year old technique of induced mutation uses radiation to alter genetic material in crop plants to boost output and disease resistance.
Selective mutation can also help crops adapt to changing climates and conditions.
Some 3,000 mutant varieties from 170 plant species spread over 60 countries — including cereals, pulses, oil, root and tuber crops — are currently cataloged in a seed database jointly run by the IAEA and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Unlike bio-engineered genetic modification, induced mutation does not splice foreign genes into the plant, but rather reorganises its existing genetic material, the head of plant breeding and genetics at the IAEA, Pierre Lagoda, told journalists.
“Spontaneous mutations are the motor of evolution,” he said. [ read more Mutant plants can boost yields, resistance: IAEA conference.]