Haitian sorghum crop now viable due to molecular marker discovery supported by 50 years of research
A research team supported by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) helped rescue the cereal crop sorghum with fifty years of global research and new technology.
This research is reported in the February 11 issue of Science Advances as “The recent evolutionary rescue of a staple crop depended on over half a century of global germplasm exchange.”
Saving a Staple Crop From Elimination
In Haiti, smallholder farmers saw the devastation that the sugarcane aphid can cause when it almost eliminated their sorghum crop in 2017. This was only two years after the aggressive new form of sugarcane aphid, M. sacchari, had been rapidly expanding and putting more than 90% of sorghum-producing areas of North America at risk.
To assist the Haitian farmers, the SMIL research team, led by Geoffrey P. Morris, partnered with the extensive and already established in-country sorghum-breeding program to develop a global germplasm exchange.
“We were able to identify this molecular marker to combat the aphid desolation rapidly thanks to a half a century investment in sharing sorghum germplasm worldwide,” said Morris, a professor at Colorado State University and principal investigator for the research. “The focus of SMIL and its predecessor, INTSORMIL, to push for the global exchange of sorghum-breeding research is essential in this approach and discovery.”
Timothy J. Dalton, SMIL director and professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, reiterates the importance of the sorghum-breeding global exchange network as a backbone for this solution for the current aphid problem and for future pests. “We started this research back in the 80s with greenbug, which was the priority pest at the time, but have seen through this public exchange of information across the globe that we were able to solve the latest pest issue more rapidly. We believe this truly helped save sorghum’s viability for so many smallholder farmers in Haiti that depend on it for the base income and food source for their family’s survival.”
Global Sorghum-Breeding Platform Provides Backing for Scientific Discovery
During the research, the team discovered a single gene naturally responsible for aphid resistance. When researchers combined the genomic scan technology with the research previously done, they were able to validate that the marker resistance to Melanaphis sacchari-1 (RMES1) gene was indeed a sugarcane-aphid-resistant locus and found throughout the global sorghum-breeding network.
The RMES1 gene variant, originally discovered in China, is a global rarity. However, RMES1 originated in Ethiopian sorghum lines, and through the research, it was understood that sorghum breeders across the globe prefer this germplasm. It was also discovered that the identified gene with sugarcane aphid, over time, had already been distributed across the sorghum-breeding platforms in three continents.
“We were able to identify this molecular marker to combat the aphid desolation rapidly thanks to a half a century investment in sharing sorghum germplasm worldwide. The focus of SMIL and its predecessor, INTSORMIL, to push for the global exchange of sorghum-breeding research is essential in this approach and discovery”
Kansas State University
K-State lab backs work that helps rescue Haitian sorghum crop
Saving sorghum from disappearance in Haiti