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Improved heat tolerance and drought resistance help pearl millet fight climate change (downtoearth)

As higher global temperatures can affect the nutritional quality of crops and affect their productivity, it is time we develop grains that can withstand the negative effects of climate change.

Pearl millet seems to be the solution for a future when temperatures will soar. Decoding and sequencing the pearl millet grain by a team comprising 65 scientists from across 30 research institutions have proved its adaptive capacity and increasing tolerance to drought. This research has
been published in the journal, Nature Biotechnology.

Research coordinated by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, India, BGI-Shenzhen, China and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development used the latest innovations in DNA sequencing and analysis to identify new genetic tools like molecular markers related to drought and heat tolerance, as well as other important traits like better nutrition profile and pest resistance.

This will help farmers grow the crop better in terms of productivity, as pearl millet is a staple food crop for millions of people living in the arid and semi-arid areas of Africa and Asia. As experts suggest, both these continents will see increasing incidents of droughts and high temperatures in the coming years due to climate change.

Currently, pearl millet is grown on about 27 million hectares worldwide and is a daily food for more than 90 million people. It is also an important source of fodder for millions of farms. However, its yields have remained low over the last six decades, as the cereal is grown on poor soil.

Withstanding higher temperatures

The analysis of reference genome and 1,000 lines of the pearl millet genome has provided the clue as to how this dryland cereal survives in temperatures over 42 degrees Celsius. Results highlighted that wax bio-synthesis genes present in the crop is the reason for this high level of heat resistance.

Pearl millet is a nutritious dryland cereal, rich in protein, fibre and essential micronutrients like iron, zinc and folate. Studies have shown that this cereal has the potential to fight iron deficiency. In India, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are the highest producers of pearl millet.

“Most cereals like rice and maize cannot support temperatures over 30 to maximum 35 degrees Celsius when they start forming their grains whereas pearl millet will fill its grain in air temperatures of up to 42 degrees Celisus,” says Rajeev Varshney of ICRISAT.

One of the goals of the research was to bring pearl millet to the mainstream as this requires less input cost. It is also a good solution for food security and climate change.

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