Indian and Chinese scientists jointly decode the toor dal genome
November 7, 2011

A staple of the Indian diet, the crux of India’s dal diplomacy and a source of nutrition for millions worldwide, Scientists from India and China have decoded the richness of pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) in terms of  its genetic traits, 3,500 years after it was first domesticated in India. Pigeon Pea is also known as tropical green pea, toor dāl or arhar dāl (India), kadios (Philippines), or Congo pea or gungo pea (in Jamaica), pois Congo (in Haiti), gandul (in PuertoRico), gunga pea and orno-eye pea.

Scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT, Hyderabad), CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) and Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI, Shenzhen, China), worked together on this project, in what could be termed as a Sino-Indian first.

Vital as a drought tolerant crop, the tropical plant provides vital clues to scientists to develop other drought resistant crops even as global warming takes a stranglehold on planet earth. “A couple of hundreds of these genes were found unique to the crop in terms of drought tolerance, an important trait that can be transferred to other similar crops like soybean, cowpea or common bean that belong to the same family,” Dr William Dar, Director-General of ICRISAT, said, commenting on the development.

Published in the latest issue of ‘Nature Biotechnology’, the scientists claim if pigeon were to be a novel, it could potentially have 48,680 characters, or genes. “This is the first draft genome sequence for a grain legume as well as the first for an orphan legume crop and probably the first for a non-industrial crop,”.

As food scarcity becomes reality, the cracking of  the pigeon pea genome will help faster development of high yielding, disease and insect-resistant varieties of arhar for higher productivity and lower prices of pulses. Famed as a vital source of protein, about 85 percent of the worlds pigeon pea is produced and consumed in India. India imports pigeon pea from Myanmar, the second largest producer. The world acreage of pigeon pea is about 4.90 mha with annual production of about 4.22 mmt worth about US$1.5 billion. India is the largest producer, consumer and importer of pigeon pea with annual production of 3.07 mmt, followed by Myanmar (0.72 mmt) and Malawi (0.15 mmt). India imports about three million tones of pulses at an estimates cost of Rs 7,000 crore annually.  These days it is the most essential ingredient of animal feed used in West Africa, most especially in Nigeria, where it is also grown.

The next challenge? The elusive wheat genome on which 17 nations including China and India are working. Wheat has 21 chromosomes of which one will be decoded by the 21 Indian scientists. The wheat genome is 42 times bigger than rice genome.

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