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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Experts' crop disease cure hope
Indian agricultural workers (generic)
Indian farmers have been growing pearl millet for centuries
Scientists in Aberystwyth believe they have developed a cure for a tropical disease that devastates crops in India and Africa.

The Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) has used modern DNA techniques to help farmers.

A new variety of the pearl millet plant will be capable of resisting attack from a disease known as downy mildew.

Grown in the world's hottest and driest regions, it will be planted in India this month.

IGER's DNA research was carried out eight years ago and taken up by plant breeders in India, who used it to develop the pearl millet.

It is hoped that the new disease-resistant crop will save farmers millions of pounds in grain losses, if there is a major outbreak of downy mildew this summer.

Affected plants produce leaf-like structures instead of grain
Dr Catherine Howarth

"It is a vitally important crop, because it survives in poor soils and produces a harvest when other cereals succumb to heat stress and lack of rainfall," said IGER's Dr Catherine Howarth.

"However, some widely used varieties of pearl millet are vulnerable to attack by downy mildew disease.

"Affected plants produce leaf-like structures instead of grain, and harvests can be reduced by as much as 80%."

Healthy and diseased pearl millet plants - picture courtesy of IGER
A healthy pearl millet plant (left) and a diseased one (right)

To develop the new variety, plant breeders in India used pioneering genetic research carried out by Dr Howarth and her colleagues.

"As a result, we were able to identify key segments of pearl millet DNA that were involved in resistance to downy mildew disease," added Dr Howarth.

"The Indian authorities have now approved the new hybrid and planting will take place."

The research was part of a major international effort involving IGER, the University of Wales Bangor, the John Innes Centre, Norwich, and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Patancheru, India.

Funding for the research came from the Department for International Development.


SEE ALSO:
Misery of India's spice farmers
12 May 05 |  South Asia


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