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In a first, the National Variety Release Committee (NVRC) of Ethiopia, announced the release of a high-yielding chickpea variety developed in collaboration with ICRISAT using marker assisted backcrossing (MABC).
The variety, ‘Geletu’, was named after the eminent pulses scientist Dr Geletu Bejiga from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). The variety was officially released for commercial production and recommended for wider adoption in the dry semi-arid tropics to moist agro-ecological zones. The variety delivered the highest grain yield of 3822 kg/ha at Arsi Robe, Ethiopia, which translates into an yield advantage of 15% over the check variety ‘Teketay’ and 78% more than the local check. Geletu with medium seed size and 100-seed weight ranging over 28.0 – 39.9 grams has compound leaves. Under Ethiopian conditions, the variety exhibited resistance to fusarium wilt and root rot with a rating of 3 and 2 respectively on a 1-9 scale (Where 1= free from disease, 9= killed by the disease).
Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center (DZARC), EIAR received MABC3F4 international nursery/line from ICRISAT and evaluated it in Ethiopia as part of the partnership in the Tropical Legumes I project, funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through CGIAR Generation Challenge Program in 2011-2012 cropping season and later evaluated it along with other lines for four seasons in Ethiopia.
The new variety’s performance was superior to the local and national check during the final evaluations of multilocation national trials conducted at seven divergent agro-ecology locations: Akaki, Ambo, Arsi Robe, Chefe Donsa, Debre Zeit, Hosanna and Jari (Sirinka) over a period of two years (2015-2017)Researchers from DZARC, EIAR and ICRISAT, conducted the multilocation trials. The breeders’ team included Drs Assefa Funga, Nigussie Girma, Million Eshete, Lijalem Korbu, Asnake Fikre, Dagnachew Bekele, Ridwan Mohamed, Fasil Hailu, Amin Fedlu, Genet Mengistu and Mekasha Chichaybelu.
Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, commended the collaborative effort of ICRISAT- EIAR under the Tropical Legumes projects: “The role of national partners like EIAR is key in translating research results into molecular breeding products on the ground, and this is one great example of creating that impact.”
“We look forward to have such collaborations with ICRISAT to take Ethiopian agriculture to the next level,” said Dr Mandefro Nigussie, Director General, EIAR.
“The identification of a molecular marker (QTL hotspot) for drought tolerance by ICRISAT in itself is a significant scientific contribution, but to see the Ethiopian national program utilize modern breeding approaches and successfully translate the technology in the form of a drought-tolerant locally adapted variety is a first. And this also represents a substantial contribution for smallholders in the country”, said Dr Jeff Ehlers, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr Jean-Marcel Ribaut, the then Director of the CGIAR Generation Challenge Program that funded the Tropical Legumes I project for ICRISAT and EIAR through investment of the Gates Foundation said, “ICRISAT and EIAR fulfilled their promise to take genomics from laboratories to the fields”.
Dr Asnake Fikre, Regional Chickpea Breeder, ICRISAT, Ethiopia, said, “It feels good to be the first generation adopter of molecular breeding in the chickpea improvement program which made Ethiopia the first country to release the molecular breeding chickpea variety.” Tanzania may also release a molecular breeding variety as some MABC lines have shown good performance in the country.
Dr Chris Ojiewo, former Regional Chickpea Breeder collaborated with EIAR researchers on evaluation of MABC lines.
Development of the released MABC line was possible due to the efforts of a multi-disciplinary team of scientists representing genomics, breeding and crop physiology at the ICRISAT headquarters. For instance, the genomics team led by Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director- Genetic Gains and Principal Investigator of Tropical Legumes project, did the identification of markers, foreground marker selection and background marker selection. The marker-assisted backcrossing, generation breeding team led by Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director- Asia and Chickpea Objective Coordinator in Tropical Legumes Project did advancement and field evaluation work; and Dr L Krishnamurthy and Dr Junichi Kashiwagi, former crop physiologists at ICRISAT, conducted crop physiology work.
Speaking of the success of molecular breeding, Dr Gaur said, “I am excited to see that the first chickpea molecular breeding variety was developed from the parent lines JG 11 developed together by ICRISAT and JNKVV and ICC 4958 coming from the ICRISAT germplasm collection. We hope to have wider adoption of this new variety and will continue to work towards enhancing chickpea yields in Ethiopia”.
The release of first molecular breeding product in Ethiopia gives us much more satisfaction than publication in Nature journals. We are happy to see chickpea genomics research going to farmers field.” said, Dr Rajeev K Varshney. He added, “Integration of molecular technologies in breeding programs is the need of the hour for enhancing yield, nutrition and addressing global challenges like climate change.
Geletu was developed from the cross JG 11 × ICC 4958 with pedigree [(JG 11 × ICC 4958) × 3*JG 11] – 29] after introducing a QTL-hotspot for drought tolerance related traits using marker-assisted backcrossing identified by ICRISAT researchers and its collaborators (published in The Plant Genome 6 doi: 10.3835/plantgenome2013.07.0022).