04 April 2014
No. 1617


The first peanut genomes sequenced

Peanut (or groundnut) is usually grown by women farmers in the semi-arid tropics of Asia
and sub-Saharan Africa as a primary calorie source for families and a cash crop. Photo: ICRISAT

The International Peanut Genome Initiative releases the first peanut genome sequences to the public.

The International Peanut Genome Initiative, a multi-national group of crop geneticists working in cooperation for several years, has successfully sequenced the genome of the peanut, also called groundnut. The new peanut genome sequence will be available to researchers and plant breeders across the globe to aid in the breeding of more productive and more resilient peanut varieties.

“The peanut crop is important in the United States, but it is very important for developing nations as well,” said Dr Scott Jackson, Director of the University of Georgia (UGA), Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and chair of the International Peanut Genome Initiative. “In many areas, it is a primary calorie source for families and a cash crop for farmers.”

“Rich in protein and edible oil, peanut is central to the financial and nutritional well-being of hundreds of millions of farmers and consumers across the semi-arid tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Dr William Dar, Director General, ICRISAT.

“Improving peanut varieties to be more drought, insect and disease resistant using the genome sequence can help farmers in developed nations produce more peanuts with fewer pesticides and other chemicals and help farmers in developing nations feed their families and build more-secure livelihoods,” said Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Grain Legumes and Director, Center of Excellence in Genomics, ICRISAT.

ICRISAT is a member of the Peanut Genome Consortium, the coalition of international scientists and stakeholders engaged in the International Peanut Genome Initiative.

The effort to sequence the genome of the peanut has been underway for several years. According to plant geneticist, Dr Peggy Ozias-Akins, UGA-Tifton, while peanuts have been successfully bred for intensive cultivation, relatively little was known about the legume’s genetic structure because of its complexity. 

Plant geneticists Drs David and Soraya Bertioli of Brazil expressed their enthusiasm for the new possibilities offered by the genome sequence: “Until now, we’ve bred peanuts relatively blindly compared to other crops. These new advances are allowing us to understand breeding in ways that could only be dreamt of before.”

To map the peanut’s genome structure, researchers sequenced the two ancestral parents – Arachis duranensis and A. ipaensis – because together they represent the cultivated peanut. The sequences provide researchers access to 96% of all peanut genes in their genomic context, providing the molecular map needed to more quickly breed drought-resistant, disease-resistant, lower-input and higher-yielding varieties.

Knowing the genome sequences of the two parent species will allow researchers to recognize the cultivated peanut’s genomic structure by differentiating between the two subgenomes present in this crop. Being able to see the two separate structural elements will also aid future gene marker development — the determination of links between a gene’s presence and a physical characteristic of the plant. Understanding the structure of the peanut’s genome will lay the groundwork for new varieties with traits like added disease resistance and drought tolerance. The genome sequence assemblies and additional information are available at http://peanutbase.org/files/genomes/.

The International Peanut Genome Initiative brings together scientists from the United States, China, Brazil, India and Israel to delineate peanut genome sequences, characterize the genetic and phenotypic variation in cultivated and wild peanuts and develop genomic tools for peanut breeding. The initial sequencing was carried out by the BGI, Shenzen, China.  The project was funded by the peanut industry through the Peanut Foundation, by MARS Inc., and three Chinese Academies (Henan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and Shandong Academy of Sciences). A complete list of the institutions involved with the project and the other funding sources is available at www.peanutbioscience.com

ICRISAT led a global research partnership in decoding the genome sequence of pigeonpea in 2011, and of chickpea in 2013; it is currently leading the genome sequencing of pearl millet. ICRISAT’s participation in the peanut genome sequencing project was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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Closing yield gaps and improving water productivity workshop held in Ethiopia

GYGA team during their field trip to Basona Werana. Photo: ICRISAT

An agronomically sound, transparent, reproducible, and publicly accessible yield gap atlas has been developed, initially for five cereal crops (maize, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum) in Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, India and Bangladesh. More countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and Australia would join the list soon.

The atlas, and all the data and protocols behind it are available at www.yieldgap.org. These are the results of the initial two-year phase (2012-2013) of the project Global Yield Gap and Water Productivity Atlas (GYGA).

With the aim to assess the progress, discuss yield gap analysis with stakeholders, and plan for the second phase of the project, the GYGA team held a workshop on 25-27 March at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Since 2012, the University of Nebraska and Wageningen University, together with main partners ICRISAT, AfricaRice, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have been implementing the GYGA project. It is based on the idea that robust estimates of yield gap (the difference between actual farm yield and yield potential under growth conditions without limitations to crop growth from water, nutrients, or pests) are an essential metric for diagnosis of limiting factors as a means to improve crop management, for determining research priorities, and for locating rural development efforts.

During the workshop, the team mapped out the way forward in collaboration with other initiatives like the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS), the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), HarvestChoice, and the Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING). The team also visited research sites of the Africa RISING project in the Basona Werana district, Ethiopia.

The GYGA project is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and activities are undertaken under the CGIAR Research Program on CCAFS.

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Agro-Insight and ICRISAT win Gold Award for effective communication

(L-R) Dr Paul Van Mele and Marcella Vrolijks from Agro-Insight, Dr Eva Weltzien from ICRISAT Mali, and Dr Tom van Mourik from Helen Keller International (formerly with ICRISAT Mali) receiving the award.

Agro-Insight and ICRISAT won the Gold Award for effective communication in London on 28 March for the high impact “Fighting Striga” videos. With funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), European Union (EU) Food initiative for West Africa, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the team worked closely with farmers to develop this creative series of ten farmer-to-farmer training videos.

The award recognized the impact these videos could have on farmers’ lives in some of the poorest parts of the world. Striga is a weed that can devastate a farmer’s crops and easily spreads to neighboring fields. Successfully managing this pest can bring rapid benefits to farmer communities in semi-arid regions where this weed can cause an estimated 40-80% yield loss in pearl millet and sorghum.

The effectiveness of the videos became apparent in the production stage itself in 2011, when ICRISAT partners in West Africa were trained to make farmer training videos.

“If I control Striga in my fields, my neighbors need to do the same in theirs. Otherwise my efforts will be in vain. When it rains heavily, the rainwater will wash Striga into my plot. So for a good result you and your neighbor must work together to fight against Striga,” said Ms Christine Keita, one of many farmers who shared their experiences on the video.

The strong messages in the videos even reached beyond the farming community. At the end of a workshop in Tamale, Mr Emmanuel, a cook by profession, said, “Now I know all about Striga. It is a dangerous weed that sucks the juice out of cereals. We have got to kill the evil Striga.”

The team are delighted that the video series has won this highly acclaimed award.

“We feel very proud to have received this award,” said Dr Paul Van Mele, Director of Agro-Insight.

“It is an international recognition of how our way of producing and sharing videos enhances impact on rural livelihoods at a large scale.”

Screen capture from ‘Fighting Striga’.

In collaboration with local media professional the videos were translated into English, French, Arabic, Portuguese and 19 African languages, and used by hundreds of organizations.

All language versions are freely downloadable from www.accessagriculture.org to support extension service providers. As part of a strategy to reach out to farmers, some 50,000 “Fighting Striga” DVDs were distributed across Africa. In addition, the video programs have been used by various African radio and television stations. Research indicated that farmers who watched the videos changed many of their farming practices.

“The videos capture decades of research on Striga and soil fertility management and have proven their value in enhancing impact,” said Dr Eva Weltzien from ICRISAT. “But it is just the beginning. We hope that this international award will further boost local language translations, distribution and use of the videos.”

Every year, the prestigious International Visual Communications Association in London hands out the Industry Award for Communication Effectiveness to leaders in the communication business. ICRISAT is the first CGIAR center to win the gold award.

To learn more about the videos, read ‘Killing the vampire flower’.

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Top honors for ICRISAT entomologist

Dr Hari Sharma, Principal Scientist – Entomology, ICRISAT, has been appointed as a member of the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India. The committee evaluates and approves research and development initiatives on genetically modified organisms of public and private institutions in India, and makes recommendations to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for commercialization of genetically modified organisms.

Dr Sharma has also been conferred the prestigious ‘Bharat Jyoti Award’ by the Indian International Friendship Society (IIFS), New Delhi for his leadership role in entomology as President of the International Congress of Entomology, and Member of the Governing Board of International Association of Plant Protection Sciences, and for his contributions to crop protection.

The award was presented to Dr Sharma at the national conference on Economic Growth and National Integration in New Delhi. The conference was attended by more than 200 participants and was chaired by Mr Rajender Singh, Chairman of IIFS.
Dr Bhisam Narain Singh, Former Governor of Tamil Nadu and Assam was the chief guest. Dr B Madhusoodana Kurup, Vice-Chancellor of the National Marine Fisheries University, Kerala and Justice Om Prakash Verma, former Governor of Punjab, were among other speakers at the event.

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