As the world's attention is focused on issues of aid and trade in developing countries, UK researchers have shown how science can improve the lives of farmers in Africa and Asia. Genetic research at a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) sponsored institute has been used by Indian researchers to develop a new strain of pearl millet that is resistant to attack by downy mildew. This fungal disease can wipe out 80 per cent of a harvest of pearl millet, a crop grown widely across the hot, dry regions of Africa and India.
Scientists at the BBSRC-sponsored Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), together with their partner institutes, created a genetic 'map' of pearl millet DNA to show how genes and other known sequences of DNA are arranged on the chromosomes of the plant. The research opened the way to marker assisted development of downy mildew resistant plants – a method of plant breeding much faster than traditional selective breeding techniques. IGER's Indian partners used the results to rapidly develop a downy mildew resistant type of pearl millet, which is being planted by Indian farmers this summer.
Dr Catherine Howarth, leader of the research project at IGER, said, "Traditional plant breeding methods demand lots of time and money as many generations of plants have to be grown to maturity to test their resistance to a disease. Using marker-assisted selection means we can run a genetic fingerprint on young plants to look for the certain stretch of DNA that means it has the resistance to the disease."
Researchers at IGER are now looking at developing this approach for other traits of pearl millet, such as drought resistance, to assist farmers in the developing world.
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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