- Researchers have created a model of the optimal variety of chickpea, which could increase crop yields by up to 12%.
- They did this using the tool FastStack, which combines 'AI with genomic prediction technology to identify the combinations of genes most likely to improve crop performance'.
- Since the global demand for protein-rich pulses is increasing, this offers opportunities for Australian farmers to supply local food industries and export markets.
- While there are challenges associated with applying this model to the field, technologies such as 'speed breeding' can help.
Using artificial intelligence, researchers have developed a genetic model for the “ultimate” chickpea, with the potential to lift crop yields by up to 12%.
Researchers genetically mapped thousands of chickpea varieties, and then used this information to identify the most valuable gene combinations using artificial intelligence (AI).
Researchers wanted to to develop a “haplotype” genomic prediction crop breeding strategy, for enhanced performance for seed weight.
“Most crop species only have a few varieties sequenced, so it was a massive undertaking by the international team to analyze more than 3,000 cultivated and wild varieties,” says Ben Hayes, professor at the University of Queensland.
The study confirms chickpea’s origin in the Fertile Crescent and provides a complete picture of genetic variation within chickpea.
“We identified 1,582 novel genes and established the pan-genome of chickpea, which will serve as a foundation for breeding superior chickpea varieties with enhanced yield, higher resistance to drought, heat, and diseases,” says Rajeev Varshney from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad, India. Varshney is lead author of the paper in Nature.
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Researchers used the data to model a chickpea with perfect genetics for seed weight, a trait linked to yield, Hayes says. “This additional data led to the increase in yield predicted by our model, which is still being fine-tuned.”
“We are using our AI ‘FastStack’ technology platform to design a chickpea with the ultimate genetics for maximum seed weight, and we think this will ultimately be a valuable tool for chickpea breeders.”
FastStack combines AI with genomic prediction technology to identify the combinations of genes most likely to improve crop performance.
Chickpea is the largest pulse crop in Australia after lupin, both in terms of planting area and production. It ranks second in area and third in production among the pulses worldwide.
The global demand for protein-rich pulses was increasing, says Lee Hickey, associate professor, plant breeder, and crop geneticist at the University of Queensland.
“Improving the productivity of chickpea for Australia offers opportunities for our farmers to supply local food industries and export markets,” he says.
“Using this AI-generated chickpea model for increased seed weight in the field will be challenging, given the number of generations it will take in cross-breeding for optimal chickpea genetics, and the impact of different environments and management practices on crop growth.
“But we do have tools like speed breeding that can speed this process up and allows us to test and put into practice these theoretical scenarios.”
What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?
Two billion people in the world currently suffer from malnutrition and according to some estimates, we need 60% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Yet the agricultural sector is ill-equipped to meet this demand: 700 million of its workers currently live in poverty, and it is already responsible for 70% of the world’s water consumption and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
New technologies could help our food systems become more sustainable and efficient, but unfortunately the agricultural sector has fallen behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption.
Launched in 2018, the Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership that facilitates the adoption of new technologies and other innovations to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume our food.
With research, increasing investments in new agriculture technologies and the integration of local and regional initiatives aimed at enhancing food security, the platform is working with over 50 partner institutions and 1,000 leaders around the world to leverage emerging technologies to make our food systems more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.
New genomic breeding approaches, including the haplotype model, are expected to redefine chickpea breeding strategies for developing high-yielding and nutritious chickpea varieties, Hayes says.
Chickpea is an important rotation crop in farming systems, as it is self-fertilizing for nitrogen, reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizer.