Millions of people in developing countries may benefit from a breakthrough in chickpea farming thanks to an international project involving a researcher from The University of Western Australia.
Winthrop Professor Karam Singh of UWA's Institute of Agriculture and CSIRO Plant Industry is one of several Australian plant scientists who partnered an international team led by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) headquartered in India, to decode the genomes of 90 chickpea genotypes. The international effort also involved scientists from the USA, China, Canada and Europe.
The study - published today in Nature Biotechnology - is significant because chickpea seeds are a major protein and nitrogen source for people living in the semi-arid tropics such as parts of India and the African countries, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya. It provides high-quality protein and cash income to resource-poor farmers, and fixes nitrogen in the soil which improves fertility.
Chickpea is the second-most widely grown legume after soybean and was the major grain legume crop grown in Australia last year.
Professor Singh and his colleagues discovered millions of genetic markers that may be used in the development of chickpea that is higher yielding and more resistant to drought and disease. This will help chickpea farmers to be more resilient to climate change.
Like many other common crops, chickpea has a narrow genetic base because of domestication. In much of the world, chickpea is grown in semi-arid places and on poor soil which - combined with its susceptibility to drought and disease - have restricted yields to below its theoretical potential.
In this study, researchers re-sequenced and analysed the genomes of chickpea from 10 countries. The study covered small-seeded desi, larger-seeded kabuli and wild varieties. The Australian contribution, led by Professor Singh, was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). Scientific contributions were also made by the CSIRO, Curtin University and the University of Queensland.
"It is important for Australian agriculture that Australian plant scientists are involved in these international crop genomic efforts, which in this case would not have been possible without the support from GRDC" Professor Singh said.
Winthrop Research Professor Karam Singh (The UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 9333 6320
Winthrop Professor Kadambot H.M. Siddique (Hackett Professor of Agriculture Chair and Director of The UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 7012
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 00 700 783