Chickpea molecular breeding: New tools and concepts


Chickpea is a cool season grain legume of exceptionally high nutritive value and most versatile food use. It is mostly grown under rain fed conditions in arid and semi-arid areas around the world. Despite growing demand and high yield potential, chickpea yield is unstable and productivity is stagnant at unacceptably low levels. Major yield increases could be achieved by development and use of cultivars that resist/tolerate abiotic and biotic stresses. In recent years the wide use of early maturing cultivars that escape drought stress led to significant increases in chickpea productivity. In the Mediterranean region, yield could be increased by shifting the sowing date from spring to winter. However, this is hampered by the sensitivity of the crop to low temperatures and the fungal pathogen Ascochyta rabiei. Drought, pod borer (Helicoverpa spp.) and the fungus Fusarium oxysporum additionally reduce harvests there and in other parts of the world. Tolerance to rising salinity will be a future advantage in many regions. Therefore, chickpea breeding focuses on increasing yield by pyramiding genes for resistance/tolerance to the fungi, to pod borer, salinity, cold and drought into elite germplasm. Progress in breeding necessitates a better understanding of the genetics underlying these traits. Marker-assisted selection (MAS) would allow a better targeting of the desired genes. Genetic mapping in chickpea, for a long time hampered by the little variability in chickpea’s genome, is today facilitated by highly polymorphic, co-dominant microsatellite-based markers. Their application for the genetic mapping of traits led to inter-laboratory comparable maps. This paper reviews the current situation of chickpea genome mapping, tagging of genes for ascochyta blight, fusarium wilt resistance and other traits, and requirements for MAS. Conventional breeding strategies to tolerate/avoid drought and chilling effects at flowering time, essential for changing from spring to winter sowing, are described. Recent approaches and future prospects for functional genomics of chickpea are discussed.



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