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Cracking the hummus: Chickpea genome sequenced

Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
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An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of the chickpea, a critically important crop in many parts of the world, especially for small-farm operators in marginal environments of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa

An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of the chickpea, a critically important crop in many parts of the world, especially for small-farm operators in marginal environments of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according to an announcement from researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in India.

The researchers published this week in the online version of the journal Nature Biotechnology the reference genome of the chickpea variety known as CDC Frontier and the genome sequence of 90 cultivated and wild chickpea lines from 10 different countries.

“The importance of this new resource for chickpea improvement cannot be overstated,” said Douglas Cook, a UC Davis professor of plant pathology.

“The sequencing of the chickpea provides genetic information that will help plant breeders develop highly productive chickpea varieties that can better tolerate drought and resist disease — traits that are particularly important in light of the threat of global climate change,” he said.

Cook is one of three lead authors on the chickpea genome sequencing project, along with Rajeev Varshney of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and Professor Jun Wang, director of the Beijing Genomics Institute of China.

The chickpea plant, whose high-protein seed is also referred to as a garbanzo bean, is thought to have originated in the Middle East nearly 7,400 years ago.

India grows, consumes and imports more chickpeas than any other nation in the world, producing more than 8 million tons annually, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2011 statistics. In contrast, the United States produced 95,770 tons of chickpeas annually, as of 2011.

Today’s announcement of the chickpea genome sequencing is the culmination of years of genome analysis by the International Chickpea Genome Sequencing Consortium, led by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics. The consortium includes 49 scientists from 23 organizations in 10 countries.

Funding for the sequencing project was provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation; Saskatchewan Pulse Growers of Canada; Grains Resource Development Corporation of Australia; Indo-German Technology Corporation of Germany and India; National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology of Spain; U.S. Department of Agriculture; Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic; University of Cordoba, Spain; Indian Council of Agricultural Research; BGI of China; and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.

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