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March 12, 2008

Welsh-based project studies genetics of pearl millet

Subsistence farmers in areas of Africa and Asia will be the direct beneficiaries of research work being carried out in West Wales – but with the growing concerns over climate change, the findings could also have a significant bearing on the future performance of crops world-wide.

Scientists at the Aberystwyth-based Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research are looking at the genetic mapping and marker-assisted breeding of pearl millet in a four-year £700,000 project.

The special initiative grant on sustainable agriculture for international development, which has come from the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council and Department for International Development, will allow a team led by Dr Rattan Yadav to research the genetic potential for improving pearl millet productivity in drought- prone areas.

“Key segments of pearl millet DNA are already known to IGER scientists and plant breeders in India have already made use of fundamental genetic research carried out at IGER over the years, but declining water resources and unpredictable rainfall now call for further research into efficient breeding for drought-prone environments,” said Dr Yadav.

“Pearl millet is the staple crop grown by subsistence farmers in the hottest, driest regions of sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent, but declining water resources and unpredictable rainfall pose serious threats to crop productivity.

“Climate change scenarios indicate that water shortage and shortening of the effective growing season will be increasingly likely – increasing the need for short-duration cereals with enhanced drought tolerance.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to improve food security and farmers’ livelihoods in the most vulnerable areas dependent on rain-fed crop production by improving the drought tolerance of otherwise acceptable and adapted pearl millet plants cultivars,” he said.

Generic knowledge and technologies developed in the project would also contribute to the global pool of knowledge in drought tolerance across species and facilitate increased crop production in water-limited environments across the world.

While immediately applicable to pearl millet, much of the information generated would have benefits to other cereals and forage grasses due to the close genomic relationships among these species and also indirectly benefit other agricultural crops.

Farmers Guardian

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