Three Groups in New Delhi are working to understand and improve adaptation of crop plants towards biotic and abiotic stresses for sustainable production of food grains. The Plant Insect Interaction Group (Nair) studies the interaction of the rice plant with its major insect pests with regard to the Asian rice gall midge and the Brown Planthopper, responsible for considerable yield loss in Asia and Africa. The Plant RNAi Biology Group (Sanan-Mishra) is interested in identifying the miRNA circuits regulating plant development and yield with respect to challenges imposed by increasing soil salinity, high temperature and virus infection. The Plant Stress Biology Group (Singla-Pareek) is involved in manipulating genes identified by the Group towards developing solutions to increase plant yield, which can also be sustained under conditions of water deficit (drought) and salinity. The Biopesticides Group (Ndolo) supports the discovery, development, formulation, commercialisation and use of biopesticides. This is achieved through a programmatic approach, which involves strategic engagement with relevant stakeholders to address the challenges confronting research and development of biopesticide products.
The Groups investigating plant response to biotic and abiotic stresses continued to make outstanding headway during 2019. The Plant RNAi Biology Group made an important discovery identifying the rice miRNA regulatory circuits and the associated pathways that are regulated in response to salinity and high temperature stress (Goel et al., 2019, Funct. Integr. Genomics, 19, 867). This study revealed the involvement of common miRNA regulatory nodes in response to two different abiotic stresses, thereby broadening our understanding of the mechanisms by which plants cope with extreme environmental cues. The Plant Stress Biology Group has identified several target genes in rice, which may be significant in closing the yield gap developed due to environmental changes (Nutan et al., 2019, J. Exp. Bot.). In a case study with the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), the Biopesticides Group identified various research gaps which, if addressed, could significantly enhance the potential for utilisation of biopesticides for control of this invasive pest (Ndolo et al., 2019, Outlooks Pest Manag. 30,6).