Applied genomics research partnership for the poor ICRISAT and BGI team up on molecular breeding of dryland crops

(L to R) Dr Rajeev Varshney; Dr Gengyun Zhang, Vice President of BGI; Director General William Dar; and Mr Dawen Xu, BGI Regional Director, during the signing of the MoU on applied genomics research for molecular breeding.

In the fight against poverty and hunger amid the threat of climate change, highly nutritious, drought tolerant crops are the best bets for smallholder farmers in the dryland tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to survive and improve their livelihoods. Genomics research for crops like chickpea, finger millet, groundnut, pearl millet, pigeonpea and sorghum will be crucial in the development of improved varieties that can provide high yields and thrive in harsh environments, and in meeting the food and nutrition security challenges in the drylands.

BGI, the world’s largest genomics organization, and ICRISAT signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 24 April in Shenzhen, China for a long-term collaboration on applied genomics research for molecular breeding.

The partnership primarily aims to enhance precision of breeding programs for semi-arid tropic crops by using next-generation sequencing technologies towards crop improvement for sustainable food production, particularly in the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The MoU was signed by Director General William Dar and BGI Vice President Gengyun Zhang. The two organizations agreed to enhance their collaboration in agricultural research-fordevelopment, especially in the genome sequencing and analysis of ICRISAT mandate crops, as well as in capacity building and other agreed activities.

ICRISAT and BGI together with several organizations from the US and Europe, have just completed the de novo genome sequencing of pigeonpea, known as the “poor people’s meat,” published in the journal Nature Biotechnology in November 2011.

Dr Gengyun Zhang giving a briefing of BGI Shenzhen facilities.

“The signing of this agreement with BGI is a big leap forward in our crop improvement efforts towards improving the livelihood of poor people in the semi-arid tropics of the world,” said Dr Dar. “This is not a start, rather a strengthening of our ongoing fruitful and rewarding research partnership with BGI,” he added.

Highlighting the significance of the MoU, Dr Zhang said, “Genetically improved crops are the key outputs of breeding research. The rapid advance of genomics will accelerate the improvement of crops with high yield, high quality and resistance to pests and diseases. With the whole genomic information of the crops, I believe we can seek much better solutions to solve the food security challenges and environmental problems in the future.”

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Director of ICRISAT’s Centre of Excellence in Genomics, stressed that “With the advances in sequencing and genotyping technologies and our collaboration with BGI, we should be able to not just decode the genome of a crop species but also speed up screening for ‘good genes’ within a crop and dramatically reduce the cost of developing new improved varieties that will benefit smallholder farmers.”

Dr Hongsheng Liang, Director of BGI-Asia Pacific, said, “We really appreciate this opportunity to collaborate with ICRISAT again. With our dedication in genomics research and bioinformatics application, I expect that we could make more breakthroughs in ‘Omics’-related area as well as further boost development of agriculture in India and other Asia-Pacific countries.”

Source: ICRISAT Happenings

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