Molecular Marker Technology for Genetic Improvement of Underutilised Crops

Dr Sean Mayes and Dr Ho Wai Kuan were among the contributors in the recently published "Crop Improvement  - Sustainability Through Leading-edge Technology"

The chapter is entitled Molecular Marker Technology for Genetic Improvement of Underutilised Crops by Acga Cheng, Hui Hui Chai, Wai Kuan Ho, Aliyu Siise Abdullah Bamba, Aryo Feldman, Presidor Kendabie, Razlin Azman Halim, Alberto Tanzi, Sean Mayes, and Festo Massawe.

A subset of underutilised crops copes comparatively better in marginal soils and under less favourable environmental conditions than their major crop equivalents. Hence, developing the subset further for future agriculture makes a suitable and complementary approach to the continued use of major crops. This is particularly true given the expected negative impact of climate change on current major crop production systems and the gap between the current rate of genetic improvement of most major crops and the higher rates required to be able to feed the predicted nine billion in 2050. One such promising crop is bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea (L.) Verdc.), an indigenous African legume which thrives in hot climates and is well suited to poor, infertile soils where other crops fail to produce reasonable yields. Another is winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus), a multi-purpose legume in which all parts of the plant, except the stem, are edible and nutritious. Nevertheless, there are a number of constraints to expanding the use of underutilised crops, one of which is erratic yields. The use of molecular markers could facilitate the genetic improvement of underutilised crops, including achieving higher and more stable yields. In this chapter, we first discuss the types of molecular markers commonly used in plant studies, followed by a detailed discussion on the different uses of markers. In addition to the generation of specific data within species, cross-species approaches and, in particular, translating knowledge and resources derived from closely related model and major plant species is a pragmatic approach to develop, given that limiting resources are often one of the major bottlenecks in programmes to develop underutilised crops.
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