An international collaboration spanning four continents — Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia — offers tougher, better-adapted new pulses and cereals to benefit Australian graingrowers.
At the heart of this effort is the world's biggest and most famous collection of pulse and cereal germplasm held at Russia's NI Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry in St Petersburg, Russia. Access to this collection greatly extends the genetic material that Australian breeders have to work with.
Leading Vavilov plant geneticist and legume crop specialist, Larissa Priliouk, recently visited the Cooperative Research Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) at the University of WA. Growers through the GRDC, with supplementary assistance from the Crawford Fund, helped establish the strong link with the Vavilov Institute which stores more than 350,000 accessions (seed samples).
Dr Priliouk said her department within the Institute stores 42,000 accessions representing more than 140 species and 14 genera of the legume family, including peas, lentils and vetches.
CLIMA Deputy Director, Clive Francis, said about 500 pea samples and a similar number of chickpeas, faba beans, barley and lentils from Vavilov had already been planted in Syria at the International Centre of Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).
"Following a very good growing season, the pea seeds have been transferred to Ethiopia for testing for the fungal disease Ascochyta (black spot), the disease most prevalent in and most threatening to WA field pea crops.
"If resistant genetic material is found in Ethiopian trials, it will then be introduced into Australia without delay."
The cooperation of ICARDA allows initial screenings to happen overseas, which lessens the high cost of quarantine into Australia. "We import elite lines," said Dr Francis.
legumes have come from overseas, but were derived from western varieties. To be able to access the incredible bank of material in Russia, then test it before importing only the most promising to Australia, makes a lot of sense," he said.
He said the Vavilov germplasm collection database is being upgraded by ICARDA to make it accessible to Australian curators.
"About 14,000 barley, durum wheats, wheat relatives, peas, chickpeas, lupins and faba beans from Russia and states of the former Soviet Union have now been selected from the database as initial priorities for access," he said.
Dr Priliouk said international cooperation is the key to extending genetic diversity, the basis for successful breeding for resistance to environmental conditions and diseases, in particular fungal diseases.
The venerable Vavilov Institute, now just over 100 years old, sent out teams of researchers before World War II to explore 65 countries during 180 missions, collecting a diverse variety of wheat, cotton, potato, legume and vegetable germplasm.