Development Of Genetic Model For Chickpea Can Lift Crop Yields By 12%

In response to a massive international research effort, a genetic model for the “ultimate” chickpea has been developed, which is likely to lead to a 12 percent rise in crop yields.

The UQ team used artificial intelligence (AI) to identify the most valuable gene combinations out of the thousands of chickpea varieties genetically mapped by the consortium.

‘Haplotype’ genomic prediction crop breeding strategy developed by Professor Ben Hayes and Professor Kai Voss-Fels at the UQ to enhance seed weight performance was led by Professor Ben Hayes with Professor Kai Voss-Fels and Associate Professor Lee Hickey.

The international team sequenced more than 3000 varieties of crops and wild plants, which is quite an undertaking for most crop species,” Professor Hayes said.

In Hyderabad, India, Dr Rajeev Varshney directs the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, which conducted groundbreaking research. In the study, chickpea’s origins in the Fertile Crescent are demonstrated and the genetic diversity of chickpeas is explored.

Dr Varshney explained that his team discovered 1,582 novel genes in chickpea and created a pangenome of the plant, which can be used to breed superior varieties of chickpea able to withstand drought, heat, and diseases.

Genome of Chickpea

In analyzing the data, Professor Hayes said his team modeled a chickpea whose seed weight, a trait linked to yield, was perfect.

In addition to these additional data, our model has also predicted an increase in yield, which is still being refined.

A chickpea with the best genetics for maximum seed weight is being developed with our AI-powered ‘FastStack’ technology platform, which we believe will prove useful to chickpea breeders in the future.”

To identify optimal gene combinations for enhancing crop performance, FastStack combines AI and genomic prediction technology.

In terms of both planting area and production, chickpea is Australia’s second-largest pulse crop behind lupin.

In terms of area and production, it is the second most abundant among the pulse crops.

Associate professor Lee Hickey from UQ says pulses are in high demand due to their high protein content.

In addition to providing local food industries and export markets, increasing chickpea productivity could benefit Australian farmers.

As the number of generations it will take to cross-breed for optimal chickpea genetics will determine the amount of seed weight, along with different environmental conditions and management practices, using this AI-generated chickpea model on the field will be challenging.

The use of tools like speed breeding, however, allows us to speed up this process, allowing us to test and put into practice these theoretical scenarios.”

The haplotype model, among other genomic breeding approaches, is expected to redefine chickpea breeding strategies for developing varieties that are economical and nutritious.

Chickpeas are important rotation crops because they self-fertilize for nitrogen, so using nitrogen fertilizer is less necessary.

Source: Rajeev K. Varshney et al. A chickpea genetic variation map based on the sequencing of 3,366 genomes. Nature, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04066-1

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