Himalayan varieties help scientists develop blight-resistant pomegranate

Disease-resistant wild varieties have been hybridised with commercial varieties

May 07, 2016 12:00 am | Updated 05:44 am IST - BENGALURU:

The wild varieties of pomegranate that have survived in the Himalayan region for centuries have now helped scientists in developing a hybrid pomegranate variety that has resistance to the deadly disease of bacterial blight.

Bacterial blight has turned out to be a major destroyer of this premium fruit crop, especially in south India.

Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR) has developed the hybrid bacterial blight-resistant variety after nearly 15 years of research. The disease-resistant variety, which is set for field trials at multiple locations, is expected to be released for commercial cultivation by farmers in about two years, according to B.N.S. Murthy, principal scientist and head of fruit crops division of the IIHR, who is heading this research project for the last four years.

“These wild varieties of pomegranate being grown in the Himalayan region, including in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, for hundreds of years have natural resistance to bacterial blight. But they are not high yielding. On the other hand, the commercial varieties of this crop are high yielding and have attributes such as quality, softness of seeds and bright colour. The commercial varieties, however, lack resistance to the bacterial blight. We have introduced disease-resistance traits from the wild varieties into the commercial varieties through hybridisation,” explained Dr. Murthy.

Under the project, 73 wild varieties of pomegranate had been collected by the scientists for developing the new hybrid variety.

Affects 60 p.c. of crop

The new hybrid variety may turn out to be a boon for pomegranate growers as over 60 per cent of the fruit crop is being lost every year in the country owing to bacterial blight. The loss level is very huge considering the fact that India accounts for about 110 million tonnes of pomegranate crop a year.

The disease-resistant variety is also bound to contribute to the environment-friendly cultivation of this crop by substantially reducing the quantum of pesticides being sprayed to protect it. At present, farmers spray pesticides for nearly 50 days of the 180-day fruiting period. Of this about 40 days of application of pesticide is for handling the bacterial blight alone, Dr. Murthy pointed out.

IIHR Director M.R. Dinesh noted that even as the bacterial blight-resistant variety was set to be taken up for multiple location trials, the further research on development of more disease-resistant varieties was on.

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