Characterizing the Ethiopian Sorghum Germplasm Collection for Drought Adaptation Traits Associated with Root and Shoot (PEARL)

Project Description

Large areas in Ethiopia and other African countries suffer from chronic drought, leading to food shortages. Sorghum is important as a fail-safe crop that remains productive in seasons that are too dry for other cereals. Despite its inherent drought tolerance, moisture stress is nonetheless one of the major constraints for sorghum production. This project will work to identify Ethiopian sorghum germplasm with drought tolerance, focusing on root characteristics. It will then map chromosomal regions associated with these traits, and train breeders and equip laboratories in order to build Ethiopia

Drought is a major problem in Ethiopia leading to food shortages. One of the best-bet crops for coping with drought in Ethiopia is sorghum, a common crop in the country which is inherently drought tolerant. However, even though Ethiopia is a centre for biodiversity for sorghum, the country’s germplasm collection has not yet been systematically characterized for drought tolerant traits.

About 10,000 sorghum accessions have been collected and collated by the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation of Ethiopia. However, there has been little systematic characterization of the Ethiopian sorghum germplasm collection, either for patterns of diversity, or for specific drought tolerance mechanisms.

This project will address three key areas.

First, the Ethiopian sorghum germplasm collection will be systematically characterized for root traits (water supply) and shoot traits (water demand). About 500 lines from a total of 10,000 accessions in the Ethiopian sorghum germplasm collection will be evaluated. The lines identified will be made available to sorghum breeders for use in their breeding programs.

Second, chromosomal regions (Quantitative Trait Loci, QTLs) controlling root characteristics (e.g. nodal root angle) and a key shoot characteristic (tillering) will be mapped using association mapping. The products will be a QTL map and the markers associated with those QTLs, both of which will help breeders to undertake marker-assisted breeding.

Third, capacity (both human and physical) will be developed at Jimma University, Ethiopia, in order to ensure the sorghum breeding program can be self-sustaining.

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