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Pigeon Pea Genome Cracked: Benefits Farming Millions in Asia & Africa

Hyderabad (South India): A team of scientists has claimed to have achieved a major breakthrough by successfully sequencing the genome of Pigeon pea, considered an “orphan crop” and “poor peoples’ meat “ for its protein-rich content, mainly grown by small and marginal farmers across the world.

Years of genome analysis by a global research partnership led by the Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has resulted in the identification of 48,680 pigeon pea genes.

In the fight against poverty and hunger amid the threat of climate change, highly nutritious, drought-tolerant crops are the best bets for small farmers in marginal environments to survive and improve their livelihoods and now the pigeon pea gives the hope with its genome fully sequenced.

Pigeon pea, grown on about 5 million hectares in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and South-Central America, is a very important food legume for millions of the poor in the semi-arid regions of the world.

Unfortunately, its productivity is less than one ton though it is considered as the “poor people’s meat” because of its high protein content.

Pigeon pea is the first “orphan crop”, the first “non-industrial crop” and the second food legume (after soybean) with a completed genome sequence.

The scientific partners include the International Initiative for Pigeon pea Genomics (IIPG), led by ICRISAT, BGI – Shenzhen (China),USresearch laboratories likeUniversityofGeorgia,UniversityofCalifornia-Davis, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and National Centre for Genome Resources, and support from the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme based in Mexico.

The journal Nature Biotechnology had recently featured this development besides giving clues on how the genomics sequence could help improve the crop for sustainable food production, particularly in the marginal environment ofAsia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
“ A couple of hundreds of these genes were found unique to the crop in terms  of drought tolerance, an important trait that can be transferred to other  similar crops like soybean, cowpea or common bean that belong to the same  family, “ the journal said.

“The mapping of the pigeon pea genome is a breakthrough that could not have
come at a better time. Now that the world is faced with hunger and famine
particularly in the Horn of Africa brought about by the worst drought of the
decades, science-based, sustainable agricultural development solutions are
vital in extricating vulnerable dry land communities out of poverty and
hunger for good,” says ICRISAT Director General William D. Dar.

“The sequence will significantly speed up and reduce the cost of screening the ‘good genes’ within the stored pigeon pea seed collections in gene banks like that of ICRISAT, dramatically reducing the cost of developing new improved varieties for farmers. Now we can breed a new variety in just 3 years as against 6-10 years before, “claims Rajeev Varshney, lead scientist and project coordinator.

Prof. Huanming Yang, Chairman, BGI-Shenzhen, the world’s largest genomics institute and a key partner of this project said he was confident of forging more dynamic and fruitful partnerships between Indian and Chinese genomic scientists.

Significantly, it is for the first time that the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR) had supported the India-based center like ICRISAT for leading the genome sequencing of a food crop.