No. 1516 27 April 2012

Applied genomics research partnership for the poor
ICRISAT and BGI team up on molecular breeding of dryland crops

(L to R) Dr Rajeev Varshney; Dr Gengyun Zhang, Vice President of BGI; Director General William Dar; and Mr Dawen Xu, BGI Regional Director, during the signing of the MoU on applied genomics research for molecular breeding.

In the fight against poverty and hunger amid the threat of climate change, highly nutritious, droughttolerant crops are the best bets for smallholder farmers in the dryland tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to survive and improve their livelihoods. Genomics research for crops like chickpea, finger millet, groundnut, pearl millet, pigeonpea and sorghum will be crucial in the development of improved varieties that can provide high yields and thrive in harsh environments, and in meeting the food and nutrition security challenges in the drylands.

BGI, the world’s largest genomics organization, and ICRISAT signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 24 April in Shenzhen, China for a long-term collaboration on applied genomics research for molecular breeding.

The partnership primarily aims to enhance precision of breeding programs for semi-arid tropic crops by using next-generation sequencing technologies towards crop improvement for sustainable food production, particularly in the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Gengyun Zhang giving a briefing of BGI Shenzhen facilities.

The MoU was signed by Director General William Dar and BGI Vice President Gengyun Zhang. The two organizations agreed to enhance their collaboration in agricultural research-fordevelopment, especially in the genome sequencing and analysis of ICRISAT mandate crops, as well as in capacity building and other agreed activities.

ICRISAT and BGI together with several organizations from the US and Europe, have just completed the de novo genome sequencing of pigeonpea, known as the “poor people’s meat,” published in the journal Nature Biotechnology in November 2011.

“The signing of this agreement with BGI is a big leap forward in our crop improvement efforts towards improving the livelihood of poor people in the semi-arid tropics of the world,” said Dr Dar. “This is not a start, rather a strengthening of our ongoing fruitful and rewarding research partnership with BGI,” he added.

Highlighting the significance of the MoU, Dr Zhang said, “Genetically improved crops are the key outputs of breeding research. The rapid advance of genomics will accelerate the improvement of crops with high yield, high quality and resistance to pests and diseases. With the whole genomic information of the crops, I believe we can seek much better solutions to solve the food security challenges and environmental problems in the future.”

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Director of ICRISAT’s Centre of Excellence in Genomics, stressed that “With the advances in sequencing and genotyping technologies and our collaboration with BGI, we should be able to not just decode the genome of a crop species but also speed up screening for ‘good genes’ within a crop and dramatically reduce the cost of developing new improved varieties that will benefit smallholder farmers.”

Dr Hongsheng Liang, Director of BGI-Asia Pacific, said, “We really appreciate this opportunity to collaborate with ICRISAT again. With our dedication in genomics research and bioinformatics application, I expect that we could make more breakthroughs in ‘Omics’-related area as well as further boost development of agriculture in India and other Asia-Pacific countries.”

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DG Dar speaks at Philippine crop science conference

Director General William Dar was keynote speaker at the Crop Science Society of the Philippines Inc. (CSSP) 42nd Annual Scientific Conference held in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Philippines on 16-21 April.

This year’s conference with the theme “Linking crop science technology and farmers towards sustainable agricultural productivity” was co-sponsored by the Department of Agriculture- Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR), Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the City Government of Puerto Princesa, the Western Philippines University (WPU), the Palawan State University (PSU), and Monsanto Inc.

In his keynote address, Dr Dar emphasized that science and technology (S&T)-based solutions and innovations are imperative in the pursuit of food security and improved agricultural production worldwide. He challenged the participants to be proactive in generating and effectively delivering appropriate crop science technologies to improve the productivity, income and well-being of the Philippines’ farming communities. He likewise promoted the application of scientific innovations backed up by adequate policy, marketing and other support services, to enable smallholder farmers to increase their crop productivity and incomes by several fold, while improving the resilience of their lands and livelihoods.

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WAF officials visit Patancheru

WAF’s Dr Baker and Ms Soames (4th and 5th from left) with ICRISAT senior staff.

Preparations for the 2013 World Agricultural Forum (WAF) Congress to be hosted by the State of Andhra Pradesh have kicked off. Dr Kenneth Baker and Ms Evie Soames, WAF Board Chairman and member, respectively, were in Hyderabad on 23-26 April for preliminary discussions with State Government Officials on the conduct of the Congress.

On 25 April, Dr Baker and Ms Soames had a brief but productive visit to ICRISAT-Patancheru. Met by senior staff led by Dr CLL Gowda, the WAF officials had a briefing and quick tour of key campus facilities, and an engaging discussion, particularly on theme ideas for the Congress.

At the SATVenture with Dr Gowda and CP Bejosano.

Taking place in early November 2013, the WAF Congress in Hyderabad will provide an opportunity to examine global agricultural needs in a new and challenging environment. The first WAF Congress in Asia, it will also showcase the State of AP’s farmercentered agricultural research-for-development programs. ICRISAT will serve as a knowledge partner in this event.


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ICRISAT-HOPE project holds review and planning meeting for Nigeria

Partners discuss plans for 2012.

The ICRISAT-HOPE project held its annual review and planning meeting for Nigeria on 16-17 April to evaluate the 2011 season and plan for activities in 2012. Forty-one participant partners from IFAD-Community Based Agricultural and Rural Development Project (CBARDP), Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI), Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Agency (KNARDA), Green Sahel Agricultural and Rural Development Initiatives (GSARDI), processors, NGOs and ICRISAT scientists from Nigeria took part in the activity.

The meeting began with a welcome address and overview of the project, its objectives and expectations by Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe, ICRISAT’s Country Representative in Nigeria, who represented the project’s global coordinator Dr George Okwach. This was followed by discussions of results from 2011 by the collaborators, a video presentation on on-farm soil fertility and Striga control, and discussions on strategies for its dissemination in Nigeria.

Participants of the project meeting in Nigeria.

The second day of the meeting had presentations by women groups, processors, and the introduction of a new project – Seed Priming Enabling Key Technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa (SPEKTISSA) – that will partner with the ICRISAT-HOPE project in Nigeria in testing and disseminating farmer-friendly cereal and legumes technologies to farmers.

ICRISAT and lead scientists from IAR and LCRI also presented their objectives and milestones for 2012, and unachieved milestones in 2011 for completion in 2012. Working groups based on project objectives planned their activities for 2012 and split tasks among the different partners. They presented their deliberations to the general house for inputs before final submission and adoption.

Expressing hope that 2012 would bring greater success to the project in Nigeria, partners thanked ICRISAT for facilitating their participation. On behalf of ICRISAT, Dr Ajeigbe thanked the partners for their continued support and expressed hope to see positive impact of the project work in Nigeria.

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Save legumes from Bruchids!

ICRISAT-Patancheru is exploring the feasibility of using PICS (Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage) bags to store pigeonpea seed. The three-layer bag consists of two polyethylene plastic bags 80 microns thick and an outer bag made of woven polypropylene.

Drs MI Vales and GV Ranga Rao with the PICS bags that show promise of reducing seed damage by storage pests.

PICS bags have been proven effective to reduce damage caused by storage pests in cowpea, and are now being promoted in several countries in West and Central Africa as an effective nonchemical and economical hermetic storage system.

An experiment was set last 14 February of this year at ICRISAT-Patancheru to compare traditional jute bags and PICS bags as storage systems for pigeonpea. The experiment consisted of the following treatments: non-infested jute bags, non-infested PICS bags, infested (60 pairs of adult bruchids) jute bags, and infested PICS bags (same number of adult bruchids) and replicated four times. The storage times will be 2, 4, 6 and 8 months.

On 16 April, the 2-month storage was completed. The results are quite encouraging. The bruchids multiplied very fast and caused significant damage inside the jute bags infested (8.4% damage), whereas the damage was low in PICS bags infested (0.5%), PICS non-infested (0.4%), and jute bags non-infested (0.3%).

Germination of pigeonpea seed in the jute-infested bags dropped to 76% whereas germination in the other treatments was between 91 and 95%; germination at the start of the experiment was 99%. The seed weight (weight of 100 grains) of the jute-infested bags was reduced to 7.5 g whereas in the other treatments it was 8.4 g. The level of O2 was lower (13%) and CO2 (3%) higher in PICSinfested bags whereas in the other treatments O2 ranged between 19% and 20% and CO2 0.1- 0.5%. Further evaluations after extended periods of time will be done, but these initial results offer promise to develop an efficient and economical storage system for pigeonpea.

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Niger President visits WASA-SP project-supported farm

Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou (in white) at the farm.

The President of Niger, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, accompanied by highlevel officials, visited a West Africa Seed Alliance Seed Project (WASA-SP)-supported farm on 19 April in Niamey. This was part of the Initiative Presidentielle 3N (Les Nigériens Nourissent les Nigériens) which aims at boosting the country’s agricultural production.

The farm visited is the success story of Mr Hima Abdoulrazack, who had the advantage of WASASP’s technical support and provision of millet seed like SOSAT-C88. His fenced farm equipped with California grid, is supported by three cannon sprinkler irrigation which has allowed the sowing of millet under irrigation since 5 February 2012.

During the visit of the President, Mr Abdoulrazak thanked ICRISAT and WASA-SP and promised to take up the challenge of producing more millet. Nigerian authorities are confident that if more producers follow his example, the country will achieve self-sufficiency in agricultural production.

Local authorities, including the Chief of District, villages and the surrounding communities also attended the farm visit.

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Training on water-stress screening in pigeonpea

A training on theoretical and practical aspects of water-stress screening in pigeonpea sponsored by the NFSM-funded project “Selection and utilization of water-logging-tolerant cultivars in pigeonpea” was conducted at ICRISAT-Patancheru on 18 April.

ICRISAT staff trains participants on the use of equipment to screen genotypes for water-logging tolerance.

The training was attended by 15 scientists, students and technical assistants from Indian institutes Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (JNKVV), Haryana Agricultural University (HAU), Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Benaras Hindu University (BHU) and Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR). It consisted of a visit to the pigeonpea laboratory (water-logging screening at the seed level in vitro), breeding greenhouse (water-logging screening at early seedling stage in pots), pathology greenhouse (Phytophthora screening), rainout shelters (drought screening) and cement pools (water-logging screening at late seedling stage in pots) and the use of various equipment recently purchased by the project.

The training was followed on 19 April by the Annual Review and Planning Meeting of the NFSM project where scientists presented their findings of the activities for year 1 and prepared work plans for 2012-2013. Efforts are well aligned to achieve the goal of developing water-logging-tolerant pigeonpea genotypes. Several water-logging-tolerant genotypes have been identified and confirmed at various locations. Of special interest for further promotion are three of the most advanced hybrids: ICPH 2671, ICPH 2740 (medium duration) and ICPH 2431 (short duration) which have consistently shown waterlogging tolerance at all screening stages and across locations.

Drs I Vales, R Sultana and S Patil (pigeonpea breeding); M Sharma and S Pande (pathology); and V Vadez and RP Kumar (physiology) contributed to the training.

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Launch and planning meeting of AISRF chickpea project

The launch and planning meeting of the project on “Genomic approaches for stress tolerant chickpea” funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology under the Australian-Indian Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) programme was held on 17 April at ICRISAT-Patancheru. This is one of three successful projects funded by AISRF under the Grand Challenge Scheme.

Participants of the AISRF launch meeting held at ICRISAT.

Welcoming the participants, Dr CLL Gowda, Director-Grain Legumes gave an overview of the project, while Project Coordinator Dr Rajeev K Varshney briefed them about ICRISAT’s role and objectives in the project. Among those who participated were national partners, Dr Sabhyata Bhatia (NIPGR), Dr C Bharadwaj (IARI), and industrial partner Dr Brij Veer Singh of Krishidhan Seeds (India) Pvt Ltd who spoke of their respective roles and work plans.

Co-Project Investigators from ICRISAT include Drs PM Gaur, Abhishek Rathore, Trushar Shah, Vincent Vadez and L Krishnamurthy. Drs K Himabindu, Rachit Saxena, and Mahendar Thudi also participated in the meeting. A meeting of international partners is scheduled on 1 October of this year prior to the VIth ICLGG meeting in Hyderabad.

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