New Delhi, May 22 In a big breakthrough, a team of 19 scientists have re-sequenced the genome or DNA of 292 pigeon pea (arhar dal) varieties that would help in development of better varieties of this crop and boost production.
India's pulses production is estimated to have risen to record 22.4 million tonnes in the 2016-17 crop year, of which 4.6 million tonnes was tur output. India imported about 5 million tonnes of pulses last fiscal to meet domestic demand.
"A global team of 19 scientists from 9 institutes have re-sequenced the genome or DNA of 292 pigeon pea varieties (Cajanus cajan – commonly called arhar or tur dal in India)," International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) said in a statement.
The scientists also discovered new traits such as resistance to various diseases that affect the crop and its insensitivity to photo-period (the duration of daylight hours required for reaching maturity), it added.
The research, which was led by the ICRISAT, Hyderabad, also traces the likely origin of the domesticated pigeon pea to Madhya Pradesh in central India.
These discoveries have been published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics today.
ICRISAT said that the breakthrough will lead to the development of superior varieties of pulse crop which can enable higher production and profits for smallholder farmers.
Consumers, especially the poor, will also be benefited as prices will become affordable.
Pigeon pea is a major source of protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins and resistant starch. However, the productivity has remained stagnant over the last six decades.
"The study used re-sequencing data to identify genomic regions impacted by domestication and breeding that have contributed to narrowing the genetic base," said Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director, ICRISAT.
The study has identified the genetic origin of the crop at a DNA level for the first time and identified genes with agronomically useful traits such as resistance to sterility mosaic disease and fusarium wilt, and insensitivity to photoperiod, he added.
Varshney said this would boost pigeon pea breeding and help in developing superior varieties to 5 years from 8-10 years.
This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in pigeon pea research since the decoding of its DNA sequence in 2011 by an ICRISAT-led global research team, the statement said.
ICRISAT's Senior Scientist (Pigeon pea Genomics) Rachit Saxena said: "The research also mapped similarities and dissimilarities between modern cultivars, landraces and wild species to arrive at the source and subsequent movement of pigeonpea from South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa and finally to Central and South America."
ICRISAT's Director General David Bergvinson said the pigeon pea is a very important commercial crop for smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia as it has a huge export potential.
Agriculture Secretary S K Pattanayak said this discovery would help in the government's mission to double farmers' incomes.
"These genomic advances provide an effective means to harness the genetic diversity present in pigeon pea germplasm collections in genebanks for bigger yields and enhancing disease resistance. This will help to provide more produce to farmers," Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Director General Trilochan Mohapatra.
Apart from ICRISAT, there were eight other institutes involved in these research.
They are: the School of Agriculture and Environment and Institute of Agriculture, the University of Western Australia; Shenzhen Millennium Genomics Inc, China; Macrogen Inc, Seoul, Korea; the Department of Plant Sciences at University of California–Davis, USA; Biological Sciences and International Center for Tropical Botany, Florida International University, Miami, USA.
Institute of Biotechnology at Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, Hyderabad; Agricultural Research Station–Gulbarga at University of Agricultural Sciences, Karnataka and Visva-Bharati, Shantiniketan, India also collaborated in this project.
Pigeon pea is the sixth most important food crop in the world and is grown on more than 5 million hectares, primarily by smallholder farmers.