The combination of models, simulations and experiments on multiple length and time scales of complete plants, will facilitate linking the chemistry that alters the DNA, the genetic networks, the genetic expression, the metabolic and cellular routes, with plant physiology and growth. Integrating these models with the ecosystem and climatic conditions will allow us to predict how different interactions respond to disturbances of the environment, and elucidate missing mechanisms that would in turn accelerate the improvement of productivity and crop sustainability, as well as contribute to the overarching challenges in food security. This is the central goal of the OMICAS program, the international, multi-institutional research program that won the "2018 Scientific Colombia" call in the Food category. A World Bank funded effort, spun by Colombia's Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Industry and Tourism, anchored at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, in Cali, Colombia.
The increasing demand for food caused by the growth in human population on earth, will require agricultural production to triple by 2050, forcing an increase in sustainable agricultural productivity.
A critical review of the Colombian agricultural policy by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), reveals that this sector presents significant limitations in the level of production, innovation, and implementation of technologies. Hence, the national agricultural production, despite being the main economic activity of the rural territories, has undergone multiple structural crises and a decline in its contribution to GDP, from 16.5% to 6.2% between 1990 and 2015, respectively.
The recent Colombian strategic plan for science, technology and innovation in the agricultural sector (PECTIA) emphasizes the need for holistic and convergent strategies, as well as a multi-disciplinary approach to agro research and development.
This alliance is a multi-institutional, multidisciplinary research effort aimed at developing measurable and transferable solutions to the challenges described, through: design, development and implementation of a strategy and infrastructure for the ‘omics’ characterization of agrological, agronomic, morphological and cellular variables that are directly associated with the epigenome, genome, metabolome and proteome, and which in turn lead to phenotypic differences, in specific agricultural crops (rice and sugarcane) , thus allowing the elucidation of complex genotype-phenotype relationships.
The advent of ‘omic’ sciences will enable a reduction in the time and costs involved in producing better quality food, will improve our chances to develop agricultural crops that can better tolerate biotic and abiotic stress, while maintaining high nutritional value. The 'omics' sciences They enable new understand of the complex interactions between genes, proteins, and metabolites within the resulting phenotype. This integrative strategy depends strongly on the methods of analytical chemistry and bio-chemistry, bioinformatics, engineering, and computational analysis.
The members of this alliance will contribute unique technology theory, methods, and tools to ensure accurate ' omics ' characterization, from the molecular scale to the crop scale. Leveraging in knowledge derived from the resulting 'omics' characterization and big data analytics and machine learning methods, the proposing team will optimize traits of interest in food extraction (efficiency in nitrogen and water use, translocation of non-structural carbohydrates, resistance to biotic and abiotic stress) and for the production of added value bio-products from non-digestible biomass (bio-active compounds and structural bio-materials); without compromising food security.
We argue that the multiscale approach proposed is essential to elucidate the relationships between structure/composition and function that affect gene expression, metabolic regulation, and macroscopic response of a living organism in its interaction with the environment. This strategy and the infrastructure resulting from this effort will ensure sustainable solutions to: increase agricultural productivity, despite the decrease in access to liquid water and arable area; Maximizing the usefulness of using biomass by extracting non-food products of added value; without compromising the environment.
We also argue that the composition and leadership of the proposing team covers the spectrum of theoretical, experimental and computational knowledge required to successfully address the proposed objectives and scope and guarantee. The Colombian institutions involved are: The Universidad del Valle (accredited); Pontifical Xaverian University (accredited); The National University (accredited); Universidad San Buenaventura (not accredited); University of Quindío – Armenia (not accredited); The Universidad de Ibague (not accredited); The Universidad Surcolombiana (not accredited); The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)-Palmira; The Sugarcane Research Center (Cenicaña)-Florida; The Colombian Federation of Rice Growers (Fedearroz) – Espinal. International collaborations will include members from: California Institute of Technology (Caltech, USA); University of Illinois (USA); Ghent University (Belgium); and University of Tokyo (Japan).