Wild species offer traits to improve chickpea

Grain Central, May 27, 2024

Annual global production of chickpeas sits at around 17Mt, and Australia is a major producer and exporter. Photo: Stu Macaulay

WILD species of chickpea have greater genetic diversity and variations, which a collaborative study between ICRISAT, The University of Western Australia and Murdoch University has found could dramatically accelerate crop improvement in modern chickpea.

The findings, published this month in the journal Nature Genetics, offer valuable insights into enhancing chickpea genetic diversity and potential avenues for improving the crop.

Chickpeas are grown in arid and semi-arid regions, with an annual global production exceeding 17 million tonnes.

The crop has a narrow genetic base, which limits breeders’ ability to improve traits such as disease resistance, flowering time, and stress tolerance.

To broaden chickpea diversity, the research team identified 24,827 gene families and successfully produced a “super-pangenome” based on the de novo genome assemblies of eight annual Cicer wild species.

Centre for Crop & Food Innovation at Murdoch University director Rajeev Varshney co-ordinated the study as part of his long-term collaboration with UWA, and said the researchers then enriched the dispensable genome for genes related to key agronomic traits.

“Structural variations between cultivated and wild genomes were used to construct a graph-based genome, revealing variations in genes affecting traits such as flowering time, vernalisation and disease resistance,” Professor Varshney said.

“These variations will facilitate the transfer of valuable traits from wild Cicer species into elite chickpea varieties through marker-assisted selection or gene-editing.

“The genomic resources and unique genes presented in distant relatives of modern-day chickpeas in this new study will greatly benefit chickpea breeding and the advancement of the research community in this area in Australia and globally.”

UWA Institute of Agriculture director Hackett Kadambot Siddique said the Nature Genetics paper was the culmination of high-level ongoing research collaboration between UWA, ICRISAT, MU and fellow partners.

“Through these powerful partnerships, together we have unlocked new genetic insights that have the potential to significantly improve chickpea crop around the world,” Professor Siddique said.

Source: University of Western Australia


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