Plant Sciences

Bridging the gap in genomics information

While corn may be the No. 1 cereal crop produced worldwide, sorghum is not far behind at No. 5. And in places like sub-Saharan Africa and southern India, where it’s too hot and dry to grow corn, sorghum reigns king.

Cliff Weil, professor of agronomy and executive committee member of the Purdue Center for Global Food Security, is interested in what makes sorghum such a viable crop and in improving its nutritional qualities. He’s collaborating with Mitch Tuinstra and Brian Dilkes on a $1 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to identify sorghum gene functions, especially those that play a role in crop yield, protein and starch digestion, and resistance to the parasitic weed Striga.

Working with the West Africa Center for Crop Improvement in Ghana, the researchers are teaching students plant-breeding techniques using genomics and bioinformatics. They’re also partnering with the Striga Research Unit in Burkina Faso to test new sorghum mutants in Striga-infested fields. Ultimately, the knowledge could allow growers to plant varieties likely to grow best in their area.

“It’s great that we can get tons of genomics information now, but the people that can benefit from that information the most need to be able to use it easily,” Weil says. “We are trying to bridge that gap.”

- Keith Robinson, Purdue News Service

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