31) ICRISAT and its Partners Make Important Advances in Developing the World's First Molecular Marker Map of Chickpea (March 2001)

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), based at Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh, in partnership with Washington State University, USA, has made important advances in developing the world's first useful molecular marker-based linkage map for chickpea, using morphological and DNA markers.

Chickpea is an important source of calories and protein for the poor across Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. "Our goal is to find useful genetic markers that can accelerate the progress in chickpea breeding for difficult traits like drought, insect, and disease resistance," said Dr Jagdish Kumar, ICRISAT Chickpea Breeder. These traits will help resource-poor farmers cope with the types of natural stresses that they can't afford to overcome through irrigation and chemical sprays - at the same time, helping protect the environment from the risks of these external inputs.

An example is drought tolerance. About 90% of chickpea is grown under rainfed conditions and almost always suffers drought stress. If researchers can reduce the drought problem in chickpea, it will be a great contribution to the productivity of this crop. "Deep and numerous roots are a genetic trait that has been proven to increase drought resistance," Dr Jagdish Kumar said. "Selection for drought resistance will be much easier if markers linked to the root traits can be identified."

Rather than digging up thousands of plants in the field to measure their root systems - a costly, and tedious process - markers in the laboratory could quickly indicate the plants most likely to contain the deep-rooting genes. Jointly with the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, ICRISAT is trying to identify such markers - a discovery that could deliver major benefits to millions of poor farmers and consumers.

So far, the map boasts about 100 markers, and has been used to locate 12 genes that govern important traits. The marker mapping system for chickpea became possible thanks to the development of the specific sequence tagged microsatellite site (STMS) marker system by Guenter Kahl's team at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University (Germany) and ICRISAT's sister center - the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) based in Syria.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.