Three-country effort to boost lentils

Image of a man with lab equipment

Dr Sukhjiwan Kaur, Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

PHOTO: Paul Jones

The promise of the science of genomics, with cheaper, faster breeding methods based on DNA technologies, has proven irresistible to pulse researchers in Australia, Canada and the US who are collaborating to explore the secrets of the lentil genome.

Three countries are collaborating in a new partnership to take apart, sequence and then reassemble (within a database) the entire genetic makeup of the lentil, its genome.

The ultimate goal of the Lentil Genome Sequencing Consortium is to provide the most comprehensive foundation possible for the future development of DNA-based breeding tools and technologies – including marker-assisted selection – for use by pulse breeders, including Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA).

The Australian partner in this international effort is the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), which is participating with GRDC support. The other research bodies are the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, the National Research Council in Saskatoon, Canada, and the University of California, Davis, in the US.

Genomes are important to breeders because they represent all of an organism’s genetic information, but the information does not exist in a uniform, static state.

With each cycle of reproduction, organisms shuffle fragments of DNA between chromosomes in ways that create ever-novel gene variants and gene combinations. The result is a gene pool forever in flux and individual organisms emerge from this pool with subtly unique genetic identities.

Breeders have learnt to sample this genetic diversity and then to lock in particularly valuable ‘variants’ in the form of cultivars with desirable quality, yield, disease and stress-resistance characteristics.

What the consortium wants to do for the lentil is provide a route to systematically understand the genetic basis of diversity in lentil populations and its impacts on plant characteristics in the paddock.

To do that, one particular variant is selected and sequenced so that it can serve as the ‘reference genome’. This provides an overall map of genes in the genome and where they are located.

Comparisons are then made to understand where diversity occurs within lentil populations and the variations are mapped relative to the reference genome. The ultimate goal is to have one integrated resource from which to identify sources of diversity. Markers can be developed to then pinpoint the association between variation in key plant traits.

To this end it is anticipated that the project will analyse about 240 lentil lines to reveal the breadth of genetic potential in existing germplasm resources.

As part of the consortium, the Victorian DEPI has undertaken to assemble the sequence of the PBA Blitz variety as its reference genome and to analyse the expressed portion of the genome from 150 lentil lines relevant to Australian breeders.
At this stage, the genome project can provide essential tools for use in pulse germplasm enhancement, including molecular markers aimed at specific traits of interest such as disease resistance, abiotic stress tolerance and herbicide tolerance. 

The genome sequence data should also allow PBA lentil breeders to design crosses based on the known genetics of the parents.

Since the lentil genome is much larger than other legumes, such as soybeans, chickpeas and pigeon peas, it will require more time and resources to generate a full reference.

However, once accomplished, the new resources are expected to speed up the development of lentil varieties with higher yield potential, superior nutritional quality and increased disease resistance to meet current and future production challenges.

This would amount to a new paradigm in crop breeding, where crops are designed with specific genome content and predetermined trait values. The superior speed, precision and breadth afforded by molecular breeding stands to complement gains from classical field and phenotype-based breeding.

Overall, it should help increase the competitiveness of the Australian lentil industry and maintain Australia’s position as the world’s leading lentil breeder, producer and exporter.

More information:

Dr Sukhjiwan Kaur
03 9032 7117
sukhjiwan.kaur@depi.vic.gov.au

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GRDC Project Code DAV00135

Region Overseas, South, National