USAID Project - Summary

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Chickpea is the world’s second most important pulse legume, with particular importance in the semi-arid tropics of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Like the majority of cultivated legumes, chickpea has exceedingly narrow genetic and phenotypic diversity. This has consequences for breeding of climate-resilient crop varieties, because much of the historical phenotypic plasticity necessary to tolerate environmental extremes may have been lost through domestication. Thus breeding only within cultivated material will have steeply diminishing returns, and there is an urgent need for new sources of diversity.

Breeding for climate resilience as well as other high value traits will be greatly accelerated if we can expand the range of adaptations accessible to breeders. Towards this end, we are characterizing wild Cicer species from a representative range of environments; introducing wild diversity into phenology-normalized backgrounds so that it is amenable for trait assessment and breeding; characterizing the material by systematic phenotyping; developing a digital information network that explicitly identifies and quantifies the contributions of agronomically useful alleles; and developing improved chickpea varieties using an international consortium of chickpea breeders.

We aim to foster breeding of high-yielding, climate-resilient chickpea within the context of user-preferred traits. Our upstream activities (i.e., germplasm collection, genomics and population development) are predicated on the need to facilitate downstream phenotyping and breeding activities. Our efforts emphasize the identification and introduction of newly collected wild alleles into diverse high performing elite cultivars, creating novel varieties that are optimized for climate resilience and nutrition.

Our strategy of research-for-development is predicated on the idea that gaps in knowledge and/or resources can be rate limiting to achieving important agricultural goals. The poor state of wild chickpea germplasm represents such a gap. Access to properly structured collections of wild germplasm, and their methodical introduction into pre-breeding populations, can bridge this gap and be the cornerstone of developing climate-resilient chickpea.

This project incorporates the following 5 objectives:

Objective 1. Characterize a comprehensive collection of wild species focused on C. reticulatum, the wild progenitor of cultivated chickpea.

Objective 2. Create reverse-introgression and advanced backcross introgression lines to (a) remove phenological barriers that otherwise impede the use of wild germplasm in breeding, (b) establish a resource for association mapping of climate-resilience traits, and (c) initiate breeding with superior wild alleles.

Objective 3. Phenotype reverse-introgressed and advanced backcross introgression lines for a range of high-priority traits related to developing high-yielding, climate-resilient chickpea.

Objective 4. Develop a predictive network of genotype-phenotype associations that identifies genes and genome regions from wild species that improve chickpea’s yield resilience to climatic extremes.

Objective 5. Resource and data management and public-facing bioinformatics.

Objective 6. Train and educate a gender-diverse group of young scientists from target countries.