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Abdelbagi Ismail

Abdelbagi Ismail

Regional Representative for Eastern and Southern Africa


Abdel is IRRI Representative for Eastern and Southern Africa

His work is currently focused on the tolerance of rice for abiotic stresses, including salinity and other soil problems (alkalinity, nutrient deficiencies, and toxicities), complete (submergence) and partial (stagnant) floods, and flooding tolerance during germination and early crop establishment. His work is focused on refining screening methods, identifying tolerant donors following large-scale screening, establishing genetic and physiological bases of tolerance, and assisting in developing tolerant breeding lines and their evaluation in the field. He has developed and validated sets of best management practices for different abiotic stress conditions to maximize expression of genetic tolerance and mitigate stress effects in farmers’ fields.

Some of his ongoing work also centers on the advanced understanding of the physiological bases of tolerance of different abiotic stresses, and developing markers for breeding. He has assessed the role of tolerant varieties, such as those carrying the SUB1 gene, in the field at IRRI and in many locations in South and Southeast Asia and Africa, in collaboration with national research partners. He has also developed and validated management packages to further enhance the survival and recovery of submergence-tolerant genotypes currently being outscaled in farmers’ fields.

Among his recent works are the following:

  • Assisted in highlighting the importance of submergence-tolerant varieties at the policy level in several Asian countries, which helped to amend policies and guidelines to speed the release of these varieties and stimulated internal and additional international support, resulting in large-scale seed production and distribution, reaching over 5 million farmers in 5 years.
  • Refined the screening system for tolerance of stagnant flooding (partial floods of 30 to 50 cm through most of the season) and identified tolerant donors following large-scale screening over several years; advanced the knowledge on mechanisms of tolerance of stagnant flooding and helped develop tolerant breeding lines now being evaluated by several national research partners; helped raise awareness of this important crop stress at national programs in Asia and Africa and develop local breeding programs to tackle this problem and networks to exchange suitable germplasm.
  • Fine-mapped Saltol, a major quantitative trait locus (QTL) associated with salinity tolerance on chromosome 1, and developed a marker-assisted backcrossing system for its incorporation into several popular varieties, including a set of Vietnamese varieties now being field evaluated.
  • Identified several additional QTLs from various salt-tolerant donors now being targeted for marker-assisted backcrossing and pyramiding, and made good progress toward cloning some of these QTLs through whole-genome sequencing, with candidate genes shortlisted and currently being validated. This will help design suitable markers for combining several tolerance genes for higher tolerance in farmers’ fields.
  • Contributed significantly to understanding the physiology and genetics of tolerance of various soil problems such as high salt, iron, and aluminum toxicities, and zinc and phosphorus deficiency, including identifying and fine-mapping QTLs associated with tolerance; assisted in refining high-throughput screening protocols for tolerance of aluminum and iron toxicity using hydroponics, and continuously provided support to groups currently handling these problems at IRRI and AfricaRice.