5) Technological breakthrough to produce disease-resistant chickpea (29 September 2005)

Scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) have succeeded in obtaining healthy hybrids of chickpea by crossing a cultivated variety, Cicer arietinum, with the wild species Cicer bijugum.

The development of this hybrid, achieved through embryo rescue and tissue culture methods, has the potential for improving disease resistance thereby boosting crop yields. The breakthrough is in developing chickpea hybrids by crossing cultivated varieties with wild species, an achievement that has so far proved highly illusive.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the breakthrough can result in the cultivation of improved chickpea, which is a crop that benefits the poor and marginal farmers of the semi-arid tropics.

Chickpea (Cicer arietinum), world's third most important food legume, rests on a narrow genetic base because of its single domestication and its self-pollinating nature. One of the best and proven means to broaden the genetic base of the crop, and also to introduce newer sources of resistance to various biotic and abiotic constraints, is to create interspecific hybrids of the plant, and more, by utilizing the wild species of chickpea for the purpose.

Chickpea, however, is not easily given to hybridization. Except for two closely related wild species, namely C. reticulatum and C. echinospermum, none of the remaining 41 wild species are crossable with cultivated chickpea due to serious hybridization barriers.

With the development of embryo rescue and tissue culture techniques for chickpea wide crosses at ICRISAT, it was possible to cross C. arietinum with C. bijugum and obtain healthy hybrids. Green hybrid plants were produced between cultivated chickpea and the wild species C. bijugum, for the first time at ICRISAT, marking a breakthrough in this research.

C. bijugum used in the crossing program has many desirable characters such as resistance to Ascochyta blight, botrytis grey mold and to Helicoverpa – the menacing pod borer. Some of these traits are expected to occur there in the hybrids. Crossing the cultivated and wild chickpea is expected to produce a hardy plant that will be able to stand up better to harsh weather and pest attacks.

For further information, contact Dr Nalini Mallikarjuna at n(dot)mallikarjuna(at)cgiar(dot)org.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.