Chick­peas un­der world spot­light

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Aglife -

Api­oneer­ing,

multi-na­tion re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion is ex­pected to un­lock valu­able new op­por­tu­ni­ties for chick­pea pro­duc­tion in Aus­tralia.

Re­searchers sup­ported by the Grains Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion have col­lected and mul­ti­plied wild chick­pea species from the Mid­dle East to build a unique ge­netic re­source.

This has led to the re­searchers screen­ing for im­por­tant traits for po­ten­tial in­cor­po­ra­tion into new dis­ease-re­sis­tant, stress-tol­er­ant, high-yield­ing va­ri­eties for Aus­tralian grow­ers. The painstak­ing search for and col­lec­tion of wild ge­netic ma­te­rial from south-east Turkey, some of which is now be­ing housed at the Aus­tralian Grains Genebank in Hor­sham, has led to the cap­ture of an im­mense amount of valu­able ge­netic and trait di­ver­sity.

GRDC pulses and oilseeds man­ager Dr Fran­cis Og­bon­naya said the ex­cit­ing re­search was likely to lead to a sub­stan­tial ex­pan­sion of Aus­tralia’s chick­pea pro­duc­tion area.

He said this was es­pe­cially the case in re­gions where op­por­tu­ni­ties to grow chick­peas had been lim­ited due to the un­avail­abil­ity of lines tol­er­ant to con­straints such as acidic soils and abi­otic and dis­ease stress. “Not only are chick­peas Aus­tralia’s most valu­able cash crop, they also play an im­por­tant role in terms of over­all op­ti­mi­sa­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity of our farm­ing sys­tems,” he said.

“They act as a break crop for ce­real ro­ta­tions, they add ni­tro­gen to the soil, as­sist with weed con­trol and they add di­ver­sity to a grower’s mar­ket­ing op­tions.

“But, un­til now, the ge­netic base of the do­mes­ti­cated chick­peas we grow to­day has been very nar­row and this has pre­vented many of our grain­grow­ers from be­ing able to grow chick­peas and en­joy all the ben­e­fits these pulse crops bring.”

Col­lab­o­ra­tion

The in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion to ex­pand the world’s chick­pea ge­netic re­sources be­gan with a Grdc-sup­ported col­lec­tion mis­sion to Turkey, where the legume was first do­mes­ti­cated, in 2013. It has since de­vel­oped into a $12-mil­lion five-year re­search pro­gram in­volv­ing eight coun­tries.

The col­lec­tion mis­sion, the suc­cess of which was con­tin­gent on Turk­ish col­lab­o­ra­tion, was su­per­vised by CSIRO eco­phys­i­ol­o­gist Dr Jens Berger who has re­searched chick­pea bio­di­ver­sity and iden­ti­fied se­ri­ous gaps in the gene pool.

“Early indi­ca­tions are good for the pres­ence of traits such as wa­ter-use ef­fi­ciency, chill­ing tol­er­ance and ne­ma­tode re­sis­tance,” Dr Berger said.

“I am op­ti­mistic that we cap­tured the adap­tive di­ver­sity needed to im­prove the per­for­mance of cul­ti­vated va­ri­eties.”

The ex­panded ge­netic re­source base has been shared among col­lab­o­rat­ing coun­tries Aus­tralia, the United States, Turkey, Ethiopia, In­dia, Pak­istan, Canada and Morocco – and is now un­der­pin­ning a se­ries of GRDC pro­ject in­vest­ments that are seek­ing to in­tro­duce valu­able new traits from the wild species into do­mes­ti­cated chick­peas suit­able for pro­duc­tion in Aus­tralia.

The wild ge­netic ma­te­rial is be­ing screened for im­por­tant traits such as tol­er­ance to acidic soils, drought, heat and cold, as well as wa­ter-use ef­fi­ciency and re­sis­tance to dis­eases such as as­cochyta blight – the most im­por­tant dis­ease of chick­peas in Aus­tralia – phy­toph­thora root rot and root le­sion ne­ma­tode.

Dr Og­bon­naya said the likely ex­pan­sion of Aus­tralian chick­pea pro­duc­tion could also pro­mote op­por­tu­ni­ties in the area of func­tional nu­tri­tion.

“It’s cer­tainly ex­cit­ing times for the re­search com­mu­nity, our plant breed­ers, our grow­ers and com­mu­nity,” he said.

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