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From genebank to farmer’s hands


Viewing pre-breeding of crops with Dr Shivali Sharma

Last week I viewed the pre-breeding lines of chickpea, pigeon pea and groundnut at ICRISAT with senior scientist in genetic resources, Dr Shivali Sharma.  The lines were produced by crossing some of the unique resources from ICRISAT’s genebank to build varieties resistant to the pests, diseases and environmental stresses that farmers’ face.

It was great to see what Shivali has been doing as I did similar research while developing insect resistant maize at CIMMYT some years ago.  She showed me lines that are being especially selected and bred to resist:

  • Late leaf spot in groundnut;
  • Ascochyta blight and Botrytis grey mould in chickpea; and
  • Pod borer in pigeon pea

Genebank Director Dr Hari D Upadhyaya explained that the genebank has more than 123,000 accessions of wild and cultivated germplasm types of ICRISAT’s mandate crops and six small millets from 144 countries. The collection serves as insurance against their loss and as a source of hardiness, improved quality and yield traits.

Dr Hari Upadhyaya (l) with technician V Balakrishna applying giberellic acid to increase the success rate of hybridization of wild and cultivated groundnut linespreparing groundnut lines

Dr Hari Upadhyaya (l) with technician V. Balakrishna applying gibberellic acid to increase the success rate of hybridization of wild and cultivated groundnut lines

Our scientists use the genebank to source wild species with unique and useful traits. They evaluate and identify promising wild types, transfer these useful traits into cultivated types through hybridization and then recover agronomic performance through back-crossing.

The promising lines identified through evaluation across locations are then used in breeding programs and released through government programs and private sector partners to farmers.

I see great opportunity for us to develop innovative approaches to compress the time-frame of this process to accelerate genetic gains, improve nutrition and increase the resilience of modern crop varieties.

The operation of pre-breeding is shown in the figure below developed by Dr Sharma.pre-breeding-graph

100 Voices on Genomics 

ICRISAT has just launched a new video series called ‘100 Voices’ with the first feature, The Future of Genomics.  Genomics helps us utilize genetic resources in gene banks even better by generating data from high throughput sequencing and genotyping.  Genomics is a great partner to the work on phenotyping, or tracking the observable traits of plants, to support the identification of new traits.

I encourage you to take a look at the 100 Voices series on the Future of Genomics to hear the views of more than 20 experts working on breeding and genomics around the world were who gathered during the 5th International Conference on Next Generation Genomics and Integrated Breeding for Crop Improvement at ICRISAT earlier this year.

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