The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) completed the sequencing of reference genome of pigeonpea (Varshney et al. 2012). Recently (V. Garg, O. Dudchenko, J. Wang et al. 2021) further improved this assembly using modern technologies and approaches such as Hi-C technology. The availability of these genomic resources enabled the scientific community, specifically pigeonpea community to advance their research for pigeonpea improvement. On the other hand, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) has expertise in gene editing with proven record of accomplishments.
To leverage their expertise, both the institutes joined hands to work on an important trait in pigeonpea, in this case herbicide tolerance. As weed infestation is one of the crucial biotic stress factors contributing to huge yield loss in crop plants, more so in pigeonpea. In this backdrop, both the institutes jointly submitted and won a competitive grant from Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India entitled “Developing double herbicide tolerant pigeonpea for improved Weed management employing two pronged approach: haplotype mining in native germplasm and CRISPR/Cas9 mediated genome editing”.
This project aims to deliver (a) Herbicides resistant superior haplotypes; (b) Identify and use of homologs in pigeonpea genome for genome editing; (c) Generation of constructs with promoters, terminators and vectors for expression of Cas9 cassettes that may be extrapolated for other legumes/dicots; (d) The genome-edited lines with double herbicide tolerant trait shall be made available to researchers for further use in their crop improvement programmes. Growers will use these new technologies in combinations to fill in efficacy gaps of diversified weeds. The main role of ICGEB will be to develop double herbicide tolerant pigeonpea using gene-editing technology while ICRISAT will be performing genome-wide haplotype discovery for targeted genes in diverse set of genotypes followed by phenotypic confirmation.
To mark the official launch of the project, a virtual meeting was held on 11 Feb 2022, where the project teams from both the institutes discussed the roadmap and way forward on project activities. Principal Investigator from ICGEB, Dr Tanushri Kaul and from ICRISAT, Dr Rajeev Varshney shared the background work done to secure this project, which has great potential to deliver solution to herbicides in pigeonpea. Dr Tanushri acknowledged how the sequence information for targeted genes from pigeonpea genome provided by ICRISAT helped in developing the guide RNA that is very crucial step in initiating the gene editing experiment.
This project provides a great opportunity to deploy genomics and gene editing approaches for bringing sustainable solution to herbicide problem in pigeonpea; said PI from ICGEB Dr Tanushri Kaul. In addition to developing herbicide tolerant products, this project will also demonstrate the power of genomics in fast pacing the genetic improvement of crops, in this case pigeonpea; said Dr Rajeev Varshney, PI from ICRISAT. Furthermore, Dr Rachit Saxena and Dr Manish Pandey from ICRISAT provided more insights on technical work and future directions to gain more by working together through discovery of additional such genes and make available for use in pigeonpea improvement.
The meeting was also attended by researchers from ICRISAT (Dr Damaris Odeny, Dr Prakash Gangashetty, Dr P. Sudhakareddy, Ms Anu Chitikineni, Mr Prasad Bajaj & Mr J. Harshvardhan and Mr Nilesh Mishra) and ICGEB (Dr Rachna Verma, Ms Jyotsna Bharti, Mr Arul Prakash, Mr Bhupendra Rawat and Ms Sonia Khan).
Project title: Developing double herbicide tolerant pigeonpea for improved Weed management employing two pronged approach: haplotype mining in native germplasm and CRISPR/Cas9 mediated genome editing
Principal Investigator: Dr Rajeev Varshney;
Duration: 3 Years
Funding Agency: Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India.