Sorghum science may boost global crops

Knowledge accumulated during 40 years of sorghum breeding by Queensland’s Department of Primary Industries is underpinning attempts to unlock the genetic codes of two sorghum characteristics with potential benefits to all of the world’s major food crops.

Those characteristics are ‘stay-green’ (delayed leaf ageing and death, which helps the sorghum plant continue filling its grain in water-limited situations) and chemical midge resistance.

What excites QDPI’s sorghum scientists is the commercial potential of these genes: ‘stay-green’ if it can be transferred to other crops like rice, wheat and maize, to improve their yields in drought; and the midge resistance if it can be used against other crop pests from the fl y family.

“Sorghum is grown in tropical environments and is a storehouse of useful genes for drought and pest resistance,” according to departmental breeder Dr David Jordan. He says advances in biotechnology have shown that all cereals have a majority of genes in common, and that differences are the result of natural and artificial selection for survival in the environments where they are grown.

“This means scientists can use genetic information from one crop to help speed up genetic advance in another one, using either conventional breeding or genetic modification.”

QDPI’s sorghum research and breeding program is recognised internationally and United States universities – notably Texas A&M – are collaborating in the DNA analyses required to crack the secrets of ‘stay-green’ and chemical midge resistance.

– Bernie Reppel