Genomic approaches for stress tolerant chickpea

Case study from the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund.

Chickpeas are an important food staple. In India and throughout the Mediterranean they play a significant religious and cultural role in regional festivals and cuisines. Chickpeas are also a valuable nutritional source of protein and fibre. The chickpea’s traditional areas of geographic cultivation are semi-arid regions that can be prone to soil salinity and subject to periods of drought and heat; both of which can limit chickpea production and significantly affect seed quality.

India is the world's largest producer and importer of chickpeas, and chickpeas are an attractive export crop for Australian producers. Demand for chickpea outstrips local supply in India, and hence this is the major export market for over 80% of Australian chickpeas, valued at over $300 million dollars annually. Chickpeas have become an important winter crop for Australian farmers as a profitable and sustainable component of the farming system offering benefits to soil nutrition and disease control.

In an era of growing populations, changing and variable climate patterns and the need for sustainable agricultural production worldwide, continued research to improve chickpea productivity is necessary.

Australia-India Strategic Research Fund

Dr Tim Sutton from the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and University of Adelaide led an Australian research team investigating stress tolerance in chickpeas.

With support from the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF), the team partnered with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Both countries brought complementary strengths to the effort borne out from sharing knowledge on chickpea physiology, molecular biology, genomics and breeding.

The project enabled key researchers in both countries to deepen scientific collaboration on how chickpea responds to stress, and subsequently identify novel germplasm with improved resistance and tolerance that could be used in breeding more adapted varieties in both countries.

The drought tolerance work identified the differences in chickpea yields in water-limited environments and the underlying physiological basis for these differences. The salinity tolerance work confirmed the substantial differences in tolerance of different chickpeas to moderate levels of soil salinity, has shown that considerable variation exists in the extensive germplasm collections in India, where this is a very old crop, relative to Australia. The research improved the knowledge of chickpea genetics in relation to these stressors and developed tools that can be used in breeding to improve selection.

The project made a significant contribution to the training of the next generation of plant scientists both in India and in Australia. Longer-term achievements include further AISRF-funded research collaborations into improving chickpea adaptation between SARDI, University of Western Australia (UWA) and ICRISAT. Cross-country research relationships between UWA and ICRISAT are being deepened through joint PhD student engagement at the two institutions.

Team leaders

Australian Team Leader:

Dr Tim Sutton, South Australian Research and Development Institute / University of Adelaide

Indian Team Leader:

Dr Rajeev Varshney, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics

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