Three Groups in New Delhi and one group in Cape Town are working to understand and improve the adaptation of crop plants towards biotic and abiotic stresses, to improve the sustainable production of food grains. The Plant Insect Interaction Group (Nair) studies the interaction of rice plant with its major insect pests: the Asian Rice Gall Midge and the Brown Planthopper, which are responsible for considerable yield loss in Asia and Africa. The Plant RNAi Biology Group (Sanan-Mishra) is interested in identifying the miRNA regulatory nodes that influence plant yields in response to challenges imposed by increasing soil salinity, high temperatures and virus infection. The Plant Stress Biology Group (Singla-Pareek) is investigating solutions to increase plant yield under multiple stresses. The Biopesticides Group (Ndolo) in Cape Town works towards the discovery, development, formulation, commercialization and use of biopesticides. This is achieved largely through a programmatic approach, which involves strategic engagement with relevant stakeholders to address the challenges confronting research and development of biopesticide products; and hence promote their application in agricultural production.
The Plant-Insect Interaction Group investigated the role of transposable elements (TEs) in conferring genetic plasticity that probably facilitates rapid adaptations in the brown planthopper (BPH), a major pest of rice. In addition, the group has identified methylation patterns involved in modulating TE dynamics in BPH under stress (Gupta and Nair, Genomics, 2021). The Plant RNAi Biology Group investigated the miRNAs that were co-modulated in response to salinity and high temperature stress (HTS) in rice, to integrate stress responses with light regulated development. The group identified the miRNAs that differentially alter expression of HSFs and HSPs in response to thermopriming and HTS (Kushwaha et al., Life 2021). They also studied the influence of the abiotic environment on host–virus interactions in plants (Rahman et al., PCR 2021), using tobacco plants expressing Flock House Virus-encoded B2 protein. The Plant Stress Biology Group demonstrated the role of SOS pathway genes and silicon in enhancing yields under salinity stress in rice (Gupta et al., Plant Physiol Biochem, 2021; Kumar et al., Physiol. Plant, in press, 2022). The group has also shown that plant glyoxalase III enzymes have undergone structural and functional divergence during the course of evolution (Kumar et al., Antioxidants 2021). In addition, the group looked at the rewilding aspects of the staple crops for lost halophytism (Rawat et al., Mol. Plant, 2022). Further, the group has highlighted optimized breeding strategies that will enable longterm genetic gains for ensuring the sustainability of agriculture under climate change (Anders et al., Trends Plant Sci, 2021). The Biopesticides Group identified some microbes that have the potential to be developed into biopesticides for control of the Fall Armyworm. In addition, the Group identified, and made recommendations on elements of the Nigerian biopesticides regulations that may need to be revised to enhance regulatory effectiveness (Ashaolu et al., in press, Sustainability).