Relishing a plate of ‘Channa Masala,’ a north Indian dish or ‘Sundal,’ a south Indian delicacy, might provide more nutritional value in the years to come as National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) in New Delhi has recently completed deciphering the genetic content of desi (country) variety of chickpea.

In an interview to The Hindu here on Friday, Akhilesh Kumar Tyagi, Director, NIPGR, said India was the largest producer as well as consumer of chickpea, a rich source of protein, and therefore it was only appropriate that the Next Generation Challenge Programme on Chickpea Genomics (NGCPCG) was conducted by a team of domestic scientists.

“It demonstrates the capacity of Indian scientists to take up such huge challenges. Earlier, while working on genomics of rice and tomato, we had around 250 scientists from a dozen nations working together. The NGCPCG is purely the work of scientists belonging to just one Indian institute,” he said.

Apart from deciphering the genes, the NIPGR scientists had also worked on finding markers distributed all over the genome which could be used by plant breeders for creation of better variety of chickpea.

The research findings have helped uncover the variability between desi chickpea and the Kabuli (named after Kabul in Afghanistan) chickpea. “The information can be used even to introgress between the two types. Another interesting thing that we have found is that there has been more than one line of evolution. Complexity of the genome is very high and it reflects on the nature of biological evolution,” he said.

On other NIPGR projects, he said a team was working on root biology and stress tolerance. “We are trying to find out such genes which will allow the plants to grow using less amount of water. It takes 3,000 litres of water to grow one kilogram of rice. By reducing this requirement even by 10 per cent we can save millions of litres,” he said.

The institute had also found out two new genes related to improving shelf life of tomato, which was unknown to India about 200 years ago, but had now become an indispensable part of Indian cuisine. “We have filed a patent for the discovery to protect it for the benefit of the people,” he added.

Mr.Tyagi was in the city to attend a scientific symposium on Emerging Trends in Plant Biotechnology.

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