Research shows genomics can match plant variety to climate stresses

Close Up Of Sorghum In The Field.chiang mai ,Thailand.A new study has shown that genomic signatures of adaptation in crop plants can help predict how crop varieties respond to stress from their environments. Led by a Kansas State University research team, this is the first study to document that genomic signatures of adaptation can help identify plants that will do well under certain stresses, such drought or toxic soils.

As stated in a recent article, the research was conducted with sorghum, one of the oldest and most widely grown cereal grain crops in the world. Sorghum is grown in Africa and Asia, as well as in some of the world’s harshest crop-growing regions. More than 43,000 sorghum varieties around the world have been collected and stored in crop gene banks, which are centers that serve as repositories for crop diversity.

“While sorghum is grown in some of the toughest climates in the world, we need to continue to increase the amount of grain it produces and its resilience to harsh environments because nearly half a billion people depend on sorghum as a staple food source,” Geoff Morris, assistant professor of agronomy at Kansas State University, said in the article. “We want this important crop plant to produce more food and have less loss.”

Sampling from the crop gene banks, Morris and colleagues at Cornell University and the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), took “snapshots” of genetic information in the genomes of approximately 2,000 sorghum varieties. Because each sorghum variety was from a particular known location in an African or Indian village, the researchers were able to tie the genetic differences of each variety to its survival in a particular environment.

According to the article, with this type of data Morris and colleagues were able to map each plant variety’s “genomic signature” of environmental adaptation. This signature reflects how different plant varieties from around the world have adapted to stressors in their environment.

The team then applied a drought stress to plants in the field to test whether genomic analysis could help predict what varieties would continue to thrive under drought. The team tested drought response in hundreds of different sorghum varieties at ICRISAT and showed that the genomic signatures identified what varieties were likely to do well under stress.

Researchers cataloged the findings in a database that aims to help sorghum breeders with limited resources in developing countries have better predictions of what sorghum varieties will thrive in the environment and in a growing season’s forecasted weather.

“Genomic analysis will never replace testing in the field, but it can help us identify useful varieties and genes for increasing stress tolerance,” Morris said in the article. “We hope that this approach will help us develop new climate-smart varieties for farmers in the world’s toughest crop-growing regions.”

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