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» 27.09.2010 - Cowpea scientists promise to end African hunger
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Africa | Nigeria
Science - Education | Agriculture - Nutrition

Nigerian scientists to revolutionise cowpea breeding

afrol News, 29 March - Scientists in Nigeria report they are getting closer to developing tools that will fast-track cowpea breeding. The protein-rich legume is mostly grown in a sub-Saharan African savannah environment.

Scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria, are a step closer to developing tools, through genome mapping, that are said to "facilitate progress in the conventional development of improved cowpea varieties with traits such as drought-tolerance."

Researcher Eugene Agbicodo at IITA, who carried out the genetic analysis of drought-tolerance in cowpea and subsequently constructed a linkage map of the crop, identified portions on the cowpea genome where genes that have effects on drought-tolerance and resistance to bacterial blight could be located.

His findings have been hailed by breeders as part of landmarks for marker assisted selection in cowpea breeding. It could lead to a revolution for cowpea breeding in drought-struck West Africa.

A similar work was reported by researchers at the University of California, and researchers at the two institutions are comparing notes on the outcomes of their research to see areas of agreement, according to Christian Fatokun, Cowpea Breeder, who supervised the work at IITA.

"If both parties are able to find areas of agreement or concurrence, such areas of the genome would be of immense benefit when marker assisted selection is to be applied in cowpea breeding. So what will take about 10 years to accomplish could be done in three years or even less," he said.

With about 70 percent of world cowpea grown in the savannah region of Africa, the protein-rich legume provides not only incomes but also improves the health of its consumers. However, cowpea faces several production constraints among which are diseases, insect pests, parasitic weeds such as Striga, and drought, which is becoming increasingly important in the cowpea producing zones of sub-Saharan Africa.

Researchers in Ibaban have constructed a cowpea genetic linkage map using the data obtained from genotyping and phenotyping. The linkage map showed molecular markers that defined quantitative trait loci (QTLs) with effects on drought-tolerance and resistance to bacterial blight among others.

Mr Agbicodo later this year is to present his work at the 5th World Cowpea Research Conference holding in Dakar, Senegal.

Mr Fatokun described the work as "a milestone as scientists seek ways to fast track cowpea improvement." According to him, he feels happy that technologies to quicken plant breeding are being developed.

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