Signing of MoU between ICRISAT and Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences (ZAAS). Photo: Anjaiah Balammola

Tying up with one of China’s oldest agri-science academies to accelerate modern research pursuits

Signing of MoU between ICRISAT and Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences (ZAAS). Photo: Anjaiah Balammola. Photos: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Signing of MoU between ICRISAT and Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences (ZAAS). Photo: Anjaiah Balammola. Photos: PS Rao, ICRISAT

To foster joint academic and research pursuits and to explore future collaborative ventures, the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences (ZAAS), a non-profit agricultural research institution, signed an MoU with ICRISAT. The agreement facilitates the exchange of scientific materials, publications and information. Academic, research and other staff will participate in teaching, training, research for development programs and other agreed activities, especially in the fields of Genomics, Molecular Breeding and Phenomics.

Dr Lao Hongwu, President of ZAAS, who led the 6-member delegation from China, said, “I am excited to see this upstream science for product development at ICRISAT’s Centre of Excellence in Genomics and Systems Biology (CEGSB) and we look forward to see this happening at our academy as well, in collaboration with ICRISAT. Research at ZAAS focuses mainly on basic agricultural research and applications, high-tech agricultural innovation and service mechanism, covering almost all aspects of agricultural sciences except tea and fishery, to provide service and assistance for rural development of Zhejiang province and beyond. ZAAS will be celebrating its 110th anniversary this yearend

Dr Peter Carberry, Director General (Acting), ICRISAT, welcomed the collaboration between the two leading research institutes in Asia. On a more curious note, he enquired if the research publications are all in Chinese and was told that the English versions are also available. The host of the event, Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director-Genetic Gains, ICRISAT, said, “Our collaboration with ZAAS will be a ‘win-win’ for accelerating product development by utilizing the expertise of both the institutes.”

The delegation comprising of officials from various ZAAS institutes included Dr Dai Jie, Office Director; Dr Li Guojing, Institute Director, Research Fellow, Institute of Vegetables; Dr Wang Jianjun, Deputy Director of Institute, Research Fellow, Institute of Crops and Nuclear Technology Utilization; Dr Xu Pei, Research Fellow, Institute of Vegetables; and Dr Qi Yongbin, Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Crops and Nuclear Technology Utilization. From ICRISAT, Dr Kiran K Sharma, DDG- Research (Acting) and several senior scientists and managers were present during the MoU signing on August 6. During this two-day visit, the ZAAS delegation interacted with Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director – Asia, Dr Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director – Innovation Systems for the Drylands and Dr Warwick Easdown, Regional Director-South/Central Asia, World Vegetable Center and scientists from their respective Research Programs. This is a step forward from Dr Varshney’s visit to ZAAS last year to explore the possibilities of collaborations, where the ZAAS leadership expressed their interest in interdisciplinary research collaborations with ICRISAT.

Seminar on the role of orphan genes specific to cowpea

Dr Xu Pei, one of the delegates, delivered a seminar titled ‘Orphan genes are involved in drought adaptations and ecoclimatic-oriented selections in domesticated cowpea’.

Orphan Genes (OGs) are genes that are restricted to a single species or a particular taxonomic group. So far, little is known about functions of OGs in domesticated crops. The study on OG-environmental adaptation relationships in cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) identified 578 expressed cowpea OGs, of which 73.2% were predicted to be non-coding. Transcriptomic analyses revealed a strikingly high rate of OGs that were drought-inducible in roots only, as compared with conserved genes. Co-expression analysis further revealed the possible involvement of OGs in known stress response pathways.

Dr Xu Pei’s research finding indicated the orphan genes (OGs) are a valuable resource for identifying new genes related to species-characteristic environmental adaptations, and fosters a new insight that artificial selections on OGs might have contributed to balancing the adaptive and agronomical traits in domesticated crops in various ecoclimatic conditions.

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