The sequencing of the sorghum genome was announced in a scientific article published on January 29, 2009 in the journal, Nature. The global team of scientists that reported the genome sequencing was led by Prof Andrew Paterson of the University of Georgia, US, and included ICRISAT's Cereal Breeder, Dr C Tom Hash.
Sorghum is the second food crop from the grass family to have its genome fully sequenced. The first one was rice. Sorghum is the first crop with the more efficient C4 photosynthesis system to be sequenced. Sugarcane, maize and pearl millet are other grasses with the C4 photosynthesis system that should benefit from this.
Plants that have a C4 photosynthesis system have a competitive advantage over plants possessing the more common C3 carbon fixation pathway under conditions of drought and high temperatures. While a significant portion of the water taken up by C3 plants is lost through transpiration, this loss is much lower for C4 plants, demonstrating their advantage in a dry environment.
According to William Dar, director general, ICRISAT, the unraveling of the sorghum genome is the first such breakthrough for a dryland agricultural crop that is adapted to drought. "The sequence of sorghum genome will provide us a better understanding on genes that make sorghum, as compared to other cereals, more drought tolerant."
ICRISAT will combine the new knowledge on the sorghum genome sequence with its expertise on molecular-marker assisted crop selection and breeding to develop improved sorghum varieties and hybrids for desirable traits, say with improved drought tolerance or improved disease resistance.
Candidate genes identified for drought tolerance or pest resistance can be used to understand natural variation in ICRISAT's sorghum germplasm collection comprising of more than 36,000 accessions with a final objective to identify superior variants for using in breeding crops.
The genome sequence is already contributing to development of additional molecular markers for economically important sorghum traits, and for identification of specific genes that control them. This in turn is leading to more efficient crop breeding methods - particularly those based on marker-assisted selection for naturally occurring genetic variation - which will reduce the time required to develop grain, forage, and sweet sorghum varieties and hybrids having improved agronomic performance, stress tolerance, pest resistance and product quality.
"We believe that availability of genome sequence combined with modern genomics approaches should boost our breeding activities to develop the desirable breeding lines. Genes identified in sorghum would not be useful only for sorghum but other cereal/plant species as well, especially for enhancing drought tolerance," Dar said.
Sorghum, a mandate crop of ICRISAT, is the fifth most important and relatively drought tolerant cereal crop that is the dietary staple of more than 500 million people in more than 30 countries of semi-arid tropics. It is grown on 42 million hectares in 98 countries of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.