International News    |   Posts    |   Vol. 3 Issue 1   

 

StatusCanada

University of Saskatchewan (U of S) researchers have released a draft lentil genome assembly that will help develop new understanding and commercial applications of this ancient crop.

“The lentil genome assembly will provide important information to help us better understand this crop,” says Kirstin Bett, U of S professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and project lead of the international lentil sequencing effort. “More importantly, it will lead to development of genomic tools that will help improve breeding practices and accelerate varietal development.”

The development of genomic tools will allow breeders to track multiple, complex traits during their cross-breeding, which will help them develop high quality and high-yielding lentils in a shorter period of time. Improved speed, precision and breadth offered by these genomic tools have proven to be complementary to classical field and phenotype-based breeding practice.

This international sequencing effort is unique as the research is farmer-driven and industry-supported. Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) has been a strong supporter of pulse crop research and development at the U of S. SPG first partnered with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture in 2011 to provide approximately $1-million for initial lentil genomic research. In 2013, SPG provided more than $1.4-million to kick-start this sequencing initiative.

“Many international partners came on board once SPG made the investment,” says Bett. “The sequencing work quickly gained momentum and that’s why we were able to complete the sequencing in less than three years.”

The sequencing effort includes researchers at University of California-Davis, National Research Council Canada, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington State University, International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), Victoria State Government, African Orphan Crop Consortium, University of Western Australia and the Institute of Experimental Botany in the Czech Republic.

–Source: University of Saskatchewan

 

StatusUnited States

A new study by researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) has uncovered a veritable trove of genes used by plants to form symbiotic relationships with fungi, vastly increasing the knowledge of the genetic basis for this agriculturally valuable interaction.

Most land plants get a large portion of their mineral nutrients through a symbiotic relationship with soil fungi called arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis. But, despite decades of research, many of the genes required to form this relationship remain elusive. Now, with the advent of widely available genome sequences, BTI researchers were able to compare 50 plant genomes to identify 138 genes shared exclusively by plants capable of AM symbiosis. The findings published in the journal Nature Plants, may ultimately bring us closer to developing plants that thrive without added fertiliser.

“Currently, our research field has identified only a handful of genes required exclusively for AM symbiosis and we know that there are huge gaps in our knowledge,” says senior author Maria Harrison, the William H. Crocker Professor at BTI. “These 138 genes are a valuable resource and provide new insights into the ways that plant cells host their fungal symbionts.”

Analysis of the new genes that were found highlighted the importance of lipid biosynthesis during symbiosis. While the analysis cannot single out every gene that a plant needs for symbiosis, it did pick out the ones that serve no other function except in symbiosis.

“I think it really shows you the power of bioinformatics,” says Lukas Mueller, a co-author and associate professor at BTI. “If you have lots of genomes you have much more power to answer questions.”

In the future, the researchers plan to investigate the remaining 131 genes and to use them to learn more about the development and regulation of the symbiosis.

Almost all staple food crops form AM symbioses, so optimising this interaction through crop breeding could improve yield and reduce the need for fertilisers.

–Source: Boyce Thompson Institute

 

StatusChina

The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences will establish an overseas agriculture research center to facilitate the export of more agricultural technologies and to encourage more international cooperation, the academy’s president said.

Li Jiayang, vice-minister of agriculture and president of the academy, said that the academy will seek to establish more multinational joint agricultural labs and agricultural technology exhibition centers during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

The move is part of an effort to push forward a more global agricultural technology development strategy and to serve the national Belt and Road Initiative, he said.

Li said the institute will first seek to establish exhibition centers in Africa and Latin America to pitch Chinese technology and products.

“The export of agricultural technology is an area with huge potential,” he said. The technologies should be used to tap the international market in the context of China’s going global strategy, he said.

The academy will first prioritise the establishment of multinational labs in areas including biotechnology, animal husbandry, veterinary medicine and agricultural resources and environment.

The academy has so far been able to demonstrate and promote 70 hybrid rice varieties in 15 countries in Asia and Africa during the past five years. It has also established joint agricultural labs in countries including Brazil, Australia, Belgium and Kazakhstan.

–Source: Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences

 

StatusAfrica

A scorching drought in Southern Africa that led to widespread crop failure could nudge African nations to finally embrace genetically modified (GM) crops to improve harvests and reduce grain imports.

The drought, which extends to South Africa, the continent’s biggest maize producer, has been exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern and follows dry spells last year that affected countries from Zimbabwe to Malawi.

Aid agency Oxfam has said 10 million people, mostly in Africa, face hunger because of droughts and poor rains.

That has brought GM crops to the forefront, especially maize, a staple crop grown and consumed in most sub-Saharan countries.

Many African countries have banned GM crops, arguing that they will cross contaminate other plants, pollute the environment and could have long-term health effects for humans.

GMO advocates, however, say the fears are not scientifically proven, adding that poor African farmers are likely to benefit most from reduced use of pesticides, lower production costs, higher yields and high prices for crops.

“GM crops are one of the alternative solutions for reducing hunger on the continent among many others which include good agronomic practices,” Jonathan Mufandaedza, chief executive at National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe, a government agency, told Reuters.

This year, South Africa, which produces more than 40 per cent of Southern African maize may need to import up to 5 million tonnes of maize due to drought, the country’s largest producer group, Grain SA said this week.

“Historically, Africa has been a laggard to accept new agricultural technologies. For GM crops, much of the problem lies in the perception, exaggerated fear and conflicting messages sent to policy making,” says Getachew Belay, an African expert on GM crops.

–Source: Reuters

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