Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics

CRAG is a public research institution with the global mission of conducting excellent research in the fields of plant sciences and agricultural and farm animal genetics and genomics.

CRAG holds the “Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence” award, the most prestigious programme of the Spanish Government to acknowledge excellence in research with international relevance.

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The research carried out at CRAG spans from basic research in plant and farm animal molecular biology, to applications of molecular approaches for breeding of species important for agriculture and food production in close collaboration with industry. Specific topics of frontier research include: genomics, plant development, plant responses to stress, plant synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, gene editing techniques, etc.

Some scientific highlights reflecting the research conducted at CRAG are listed below:

– CRAG researchers identified a new microRNA from rice which originated from a transposable element and that regulates blast resistance by DNA methylation. Moreover, they have demonstrated that the arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis confers protection to the blast fungus and makes rice plants more productive. The AM symbiosis represents an alternative to the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

– The attractive colors of many flowers and fruits result from the accumulation of health-promoting carotenoid pigments in specialized cellular structures called chromoplasts. A CRAG´s teams found that chromoplasts can be artificially generated from leaf chloroplasts by using an enzyme that synthesizes the carotenoid precursor phytoene. This synthetic system allows to boost the carotenoid content of green vegetables and forage crops, hence improving their nutritional quality.

– Fruit ripening is a main target in crop breeding, having a major effect in fruit shelf life and fruit quality. Melon is an interesting model and the genetic dissection of the control of this trait may help to obtain long shelf life varieties and ultimately lead to a reduction in food loss and waste.

– CRAG researchers found that insertions of miniature inverted-repeat transposable elements (MITEs) are frequently associated with phenotypic variability of important agronomic traits in rice. Using MITE insertions in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) can uncover new genotype-to-phenotype associations and allow for discovering the genetic basis of important trait variability.

– The development of new plant varieties is a very slow process. CRAG researchers showed that ‘deep learning’ methods, inspired on how the human brain works, can help to improve prediction of new cultivars.

– Meat quality has an important genetic component. CRAG scientists have identified genomic regions and strong candidate genes associated with fatty acid composition in muscle and adipose tissue in pigs. These results are relevant for meat quality selection of commercial pig breeds.