US, India join hands to generate information on pigeon pea improvement

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Oct 7 | Updated: Oct 8 2007, 05:14am hrs
The study on pigeon pea genomics has been taken up under the US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture. The use of genomics tools is expected to generate basic information needed for pigeon pea improvement.

Pulses are important for nutritional security and it forms a principal part of the common Indian diet. Pigeon pea is the second most important pulse crop in India after chick pea, more than 90% of which is produced and consumed in the country.

The Board meeting of the India-US Knowledge Initiative held in Washington early this year, had finalised the work plan for four major areas like education and training on resources, food processing and marketing, biotechnology and water management.

Genome sequencing projects are very costly and can be undertaken in collaboration with partners. We have, therefore, initiated this programme under the US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, said NK Singh of the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Delhi.

The pigeon pea variety, Asha has been selected for genomics study. This variety is of medium maturity and resistant to wilt and sterility. The plant height is about 180-200 cm. Apart from pigeon pea, applications of genomics for improvement of chickpea and peanut are slated to be taken up under the US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture.

Singh along with six other members of the team are principal investigators in the pigeon pea genomics project. Several NGOs and farmer groups in the country have been critical about the US-India Knowledge Initiative signed on the occasion of the visit of President George Bush to India in March 2006.

They apprehend that as major US corporates are on the board, the programme would ultimately result in taking over Indian agriculture by the multinational companies. They have also alleged that the controversial transgenic technology would be thrust upon Indian agriculture under this programme.

Singh said India benefited by joining the global club which successfully sequenced rice genome. Disease resistance genes have been identified and the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology has set up a rice gene database called VanshanuDhan, he said.

He further added, a number of rice genes known for important agronomic traits have been recently cloned and this was possible due to the information gained from rice genome sequencing. Some of the important agronomic traits identified in various genes are resistance to bacterial blight, plant height, amylose content, grain number, salt tolerance, grain aroma, blast resistance, submergence tolerance, lodging tolerance and seed shattering.

These traits would be useful in molecular breeding of rice, said Singh. The study of plant genomics will not lead to development of transgenic crops.