Exploring the Orphan Crop: Pearl Millet
Posted 22nd January 2018 by Jane Williams
As an awardee of Global Engage’s Early Career Research grant, we are pleased to announce that Ambika Dudhate will be presenting her research about the drought tolerance in pearl millet in detail at the 6th Plant Genomics and Gene Editing Congress: Europe. It will be a great opportunity to discuss the topic on a large platform.
With the world population projected to increase by 30% over the next thirty-five years,  global food security is at risk. In order to feed an ever-growing population, food production will need to increase from 8.4 tonnes to almost 13.5 tonnes a year by 2050.  However, food production is currently under threat. Issues such as land exploitation and environmental disasters, such as drought, have had a negative impact on agricultural yield. Plant scientists worldwide have been working hard to produce solutions to these problems. Among others, one is to study the crops which have the ability to cope with these challenging circumstances.
Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is such a crop which possesses the ability to stand even the worst climatic situations, such as drought, salt, heat and cold. It is a staple crop, due to its high nutritional value, and it can be found in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent. In addition, this plant possesses a potential source of genetic determinants for drought tolerance. However, despite these qualities, pearl millet is one of the least studied and is often considered to be an ‘orphan crop.’ Understanding the drought tolerance mechanisms of pearl millet will provide crucial information for tackling climatic issues, which are proving to be detrimental for global agriculture.
Last year, the whole genome of pearl millet was released by the International Pearl Millet Genome Sequencing Consortium (IPMGSC) under ICRISAT, India. With easy access to the whole genome sequence of pearl millet, it has become easier to explore it. Using Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), we have tried to elucidate the pathways which are conferring the tolerance to drought in pearl millet by comparing two lines (ICMB843 and ICMB863) with different levels of tolerance.
Our findings show that photosynthesis, plant hormone signal transduction, and mitogen-activated protein kinase signalling pathways are significantly activated on the advent of drought stress in pearl millet. Identified metabolic pathways provide an insight into understanding the molecular mechanism of drought tolerance in pearl millet by various newly developed technologies in plant biotechnology.
Ambika Dudhate is currently pursuing a PhD at The University of Tokyo. Her research interest is to study the rising problem of drought and drought-related stresses in the agricultural sector by implementing biotechnological and computational approaches. Presently her research focus is pearl millet a drought tolerant crop.
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