The African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) has begun sequencing, assembling and annotating the genomes of 101 traditional African food crops in order to improve their nutritional content.
The data is intended to guide orphan crop breeding programs and assess genetic diversity in African crops. The genetic markers will be used to select quality seeds and perform genome-wide studies on crop yield, disease resistance, nutritional content and other agriculturally beneficial traits. The results will be made public through the African Union.
“With generous in-kind support from its partners, AOCC is sequencing a reference genome and 100 lines for each of the 101 African crops. To sustain these efforts, AOCC has invited communities focusing on the development of orphan crops to contribute and partner to improve the productivity and nutrition.
“Based at the World Agroforestry Centre, AOCC will train 250 plant breeders in genomics and marker-assisted selection for crop improvement over a 5-year period. The work will drive the development of improved planting materials that will then be available to smallholder farmers throughout Africa,” the organisation stated.
The first orphan crops to be sequenced, assembled and annotated by the AOCC is finger millet. It is hoped that by sharing knowledge of the genome sequences of finger millet and other African crops, scientists and AOCC will help plant breeders develop nutritious, productive and robust varieties.
Once tested and approved, the new varieties will be released to African farmers for cultivation. AOCC said it plans to raise the nutritional value of traditional African staple crops through the adoption of modern breeding methods for crop improvement purposes.
“It does this through developing next generation genomics resources for a collection of 101 African orphan crops that include a variety of important annual and perennial (tree) species. It is also undertaking whole genome sequencing and re-sequencing of panels of 100 accessions of each crop and transcriptome sequencing to develop tools to assess genetic diversity in crops and support breeding programmes,” the organisation said.
African plant breeders who have the responsibility of implementing the project are presently being trained in genomics, marker-assisted selection and other crop improvement applications at the African Plant Breeding Academy in Kenya.
Species under study include the Bambara groundnut, drumstick tree, and apple-ring tree. To date, 10 reference genomes have been completed, and 8 of those are annotated.
Click here for the full list of crops being studied.
Efforts are also underway to reintroduce orphan crops into the food supply system through value chain development and promotional activities to stimulate their production and consumption.
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