Nature Biotechnology provides map of the structure and functions of genes defining chickpea plant

In a breakthrough that promises improved grain yields and quality, greater drought and disease resistance and enhanced genetic diversity, a global research team has completed high-quality sequencing of not one but 90 genomes of chickpea.

Nature Biotechnology featured the reference genome of the CDC Frontier chickpea variety and genome sequence of 90 cultivated and wild genotypes from 10 different countries as an online publication on January 27.

The paper provides a map of the structure and functions of the genes that define the chickpea plant. It also reveals clues on how the sequence can be useful to crop improvement for sustainable and resilient food production.

Global partnership

The global research partnership, led by the International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) based here, succeeded in identifying an estimated 28,269 genes of chickpea after sequencing CDC Frontier, a kabuli (large-seeded) chickpea variety. This will help chickpea farmers become more resilient to emerging challenges brought about by the threat of climate change. The genome map can also be used to harness genetic diversity by broadening the genetic base of cultivated chickpea gene pool.

Chickpea is the second largest cultivated grain food legume in the world, grown in about 11.5 million hectares mostly by resource poor farmers in the semi-arid tropics. It contributes to income generation and improved livelihoods of smallholder farmers in African countries such as Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya, and is crucial to the food security in India.

“ICRISAT and its partners have once again demonstrated the power of productive partnerships by achieving this breakthrough in legume genomics,” says William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT.

“In the face of the growing global hunger and poverty amid the threat of climate change, the chickpea genome sequence will facilitate the development of superior varieties that will generate more income and help extricate vulnerable dryland communities out of poverty and hunger for good, particularly those in the drylands of Asia and sub-Africa for whom ICRISAT and our partners are working,” Dr. Dar said.

“This study will provide not only access to ‘good genes’ to speed up breeding, but also to genomic regions that will bring genetic diversity back from landraces or wild species to breeding lines,” said Dr. Rajeev Varshney, coordinator of ICGSC and Director — Center of Excellence in Genomics, ICRISAT.

Renowned agricultural scientist and Rajya Sabha member M.S. Swaminathan said chickpea occupied a pride of place in the struggle against protein hunger. “I am confident that the knowledge provided by this study will help accelerate the improvement of this crop through marker-assisted breeding.”

Ashish Bahuguna, Secretary, Union Ministry of Agriculture, said the development was of great importance to India, the largest producer and consumer of chickpea.