SMIL collaborates through research on diseases impacting sorghum production.
As disease resistance continues to impact production around the world, diseases in sorghum are top of mind in Niger and Senegal. With limited access to treatment options and inputs, farmers in Africa remain susceptible to these devastating diseases.
With the ability to apply markers at each breeding stage, sorghum breeders are studying marker-assisted selection for disease-resistant sorghum cultivars.
With funding from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL), researchers at Texas A&M University, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN), and Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA) are working to find a solution through enhanced disease resistance using gene tagging.
“The final goal is to develop PCR primers that can be used to do the master assistant selection. With the maker selection, it will not take such a long time to have cultivar resistance of sorghum to help increase yield,” Coumba Fall, SMIL-supported graduate student at Texas A&M, said. “We want to identify qualities for growers by finding a resistant gene or trait that is associated with a disease.”
Dr. Clint Magill, principal investigator on the research and professor in Fungal Genetics and Host Resistance at Texas A&M, said he was initially introduced to sorghum research through sorghum researcher Dr. Dick Fredrickson, who also introduced him to SMIL when he first started at Texas A&M.
Magill’s father was a tenant farmer, so he moved around for much of his childhood, but he attended school in rural Illinois and then went to the University of Illinois for his undergraduate agricultural studies.
Shortly after getting into the research, Magill said, “It would be really good for farmers in Africa if they could do their own gene tagging and track for the next generation by a simple PCR reaction.”
Magill made the connection with Kansas State University and SMIL and joined Dr. Louis Prom, research plant pathologist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work on this SMIL project together. As the SMIL research project principal investigator, Magill feels like the SMIL team has provided him with everything needed for a successful project.
“I have a great student, Coumba Fall, working with me from Senegal, great breeders on the team, and good pathologists,” Magill said, adding his networks in Niger and Senegal are also important for research tracking.
Research Progress & Improvement
Following the research studies, extensive results were completed and published. In both Niger and Senegal, various disease hot spots were identified to test local and U.S. cultivars.
Seed-collected cultivars from Niger and Senegal were grown in Dr. Louis Prom’s greenhouse. Prom has focused much of his career on various diseases. “What I am trying to do is look for sources that may have multiple disease-resistant variabilities against mildew and grain mold. By looking at the literature, I found out that no extensive survey of sorghum diseases in those countries has ever been done,” he said.
“The final goal is to develop PCR primers that can be used to do the master assistant selection. With the maker selection, it will not take such a long time to have cultivar resistance of sorghum to help increase yield,”
A few target diseases in Niger are anthracnose and long smut, while in Senegal, anthracnose and grain mold are the most common. In the current research, marker tagging uses the genome-wide association to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in genetic resistance.
“It is important to know that the research we’ve done here, especially the techniques that we’ve generated, is adopted by scientists in Africa,” Prom said, adding the importance of creating inoculation techniques to address everyone's needs.
The SMIL project team conducted a national survey supported by Le Centre National de Recherches Agronomiques (CNRA), ISRA, USDA, and USAID to develop a distribution map of sorghum diseases in Senegal. The objective of the survey was to identify the economic impact of anthracnose disease, striga, long smut, and grain mold.
Dr. Mame Penda Sarr Diawara, plant pathologist for ISRA/CNRA in Bambey and researcher on the SMIL project, said, “During the process, we were concerned about the economic impact of these diseases. We need more data in Senegal concerning anthracnose and grain mold and their economic impact on producers.”
The survey was conducted in 206 sorghum fields in several regions throughout Senegal. The goal of the research was to identify agronomic traits for disease resistance and screen seeds to develop disease-resistant varieties. View a video about the SMIL project research and survey here: National Survey on Sorghum Diseases in Senegal
For more information on the sorghum functionality and quality development for food applications, visit https://smil.k-state.edu/marker-assisted.