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Kansas State University scientists are working on a sorghum variety with natural resistance to pathogens and pests.

February 2, 2022

3 Min Read
Tesfaye Mengiste, professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University, looks at sorghum infected with anthracnose. M
RESISTANCE: Tesfaye Mengiste, a professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University, looks at sorghum infected with anthracnose. Mengiste led a team of researchers of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) that identified a single gene conferring broad resistance to the fungal disease.Courtesy of Purdue University and Tom Campbell

Anthracnose resistance in sorghum is just a gene away. Scientists with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) recently announced they have developed a sorghum variety they say will provide natural resistance to pathogens and pests that have crippled the crop in humid lowland areas of western Ethiopia.

Their research is reported in the Jan. 9 issue of The Plant Cell, a journal of the American Society of Plant Biologists.

Sorghum

Timothy Dalton, director of SMIL, based at Kansas State University, says the researchers’ work will “serve the broader sorghum development community and is a flagship global good, public characteristic of the U.S. land-grant mission.”

Sorghum map

The K-State lab led by Dalton funded work in Ethiopia and West Africa to map genes and explore more than 2,000 pieces of germplasm in numerous field trials over several years.

“The new variety, called Merera, has multiple benefits, including resistance to pathogens and birds, and it yields better than current varieties that Ethiopian farmers have,” says Tesfaye Mengiste, a professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University and the principal investigator for the research.

Mengiste says Merera has shown resistance to anthracnose, a devastating fungal disease that attacks all parts of the plant — leaves, stalk, and head — leaving almost nothing to be used for food, biofuels or animal feed.

“With these improved traits and yield potential, it can mean a better livelihood for [farmers],” Mengiste says.

Discovery

A newly discovered gene named anthracnose resistance gene1, or ARG1, is unique, according to Mengiste.

“Although some natural resistance to fungal disease was known in sorghum, genes that confer widespread resistance have not been identified,” he says. “It is remarkable that a single gene leads to resistance across a broad spectrum of fungi and multiple strains of the anthracnose fungus.”

Mengiste cited recent results with Merera that indicate up to a 43% increase in sorghum yields, which has led to increased income for smallholder farmers.

USAID

In 2013, the U.S. Agency for International Development invested $13.7 million to establish the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet at K-State. The lab’s primary focus is to improve the productivity, disease resistance, agronomy and economy of sorghum and millet in six partner countries. In 2018, USAID renewed its commitment to SMIL, awarding $14 million over five years to continue the project’s work.

USAID funds several Feed the Future Innovation Labs across the country to harness the capacity of U.S. land-grant institutions, other universities and the private sector to improve food security globally.

The sorghum variety recently developed for Ethiopia — while directly benefiting farmers in that country — is much like many other Feed the Future projects that aim to build knowledge to help farmers throughout the world, including in the U.S.

“Through this collaborative research supported by SMIL and the funding through USAID, we will continue to explore the rich Ethiopian germplasm to come up with the next resilient and high-yielding varieties,” Mengiste says. “With better leveraging of recent genetic technologies, we will expedite the development of the new generation of varieties or those in the pipeline.”

Source: Kansas State Research and Extension is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

 

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