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Global warming, environmental degradation and our planet’s growing human population pose increasing threats to food security around the world. At the same time, biodiversity is threatened by modern agricultural approaches, which also contribute substantially to global carbon emissions. In Switzerland, as elsewhere, there is increasing pressure to reduce the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, to mitigate against the causes of global warming, and to protect biodiversity while maintaining or increasing productivity. A broad spectrum of approaches will be needed to meet these demands, including the development of new plant trait combinations that confer greater resistance to pests and diseases or continued productivity in the face of drought, flooding or increasing temperatures.

New plant breeding technologies (NBTs) are now available that promise more specific targeting of relevant genetic variants and, especially, more rapid testing of variants and their eventual translation into crops. In the context of this NRP, NBTs refer to techniques capable of the targeted alteration of the genetic material of plants, including but not limited to approaches that involve targeted mutagenesis, editing of DNA stretches, and targeted insertion of DNA constructs that do not lead to transgenic products.

The National Research Programme ”Plant Breeding Innovation” (NRP 84) will fund interdisciplinary translational research on the agronomic application of NBTs in Switzerland within social, economic, and regulatory contexts. A priority is to examine ways in which NBTs might develop and bring new crop varieties to the market with traits that allow improved social, economic and environmental sustainability and bolster food security in the face of climate change.

The funded projects employ a solution-oriented, transdisciplinary and transformative approach and address the following modules:

  • Projects in Module 1 will evaluate the use of NBTs to generate crop varieties with traits that improve crop productivity and quality and that permit environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural practices in Switzerland.
  • Projects in Module 2 will examine ethical issues and factors that influence stakeholders’ attitudes and interests as well as the economic viability of the use of NBTs in agriculture.
  • Projects in Module 3 will formulate policy recommendations for regulatory frameworks that promote innovation for sustainable applications of NBTs and that serve to reduce biosafety and environmental risks.

The research phase will start in early 2025 and run for 5 years. NRP 84 will operate with a total budget of CHF 10.0 million.