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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 February 2008, 07:26 GMT
DNA project to improve crop yield
Pearl millet (picture: Iger)
Pearl millet is grown in Africa and Asia
Scientists are using modern DNA techniques to make crops grown in the world's hottest and driest regions more resistant to drought.

Aberystwyth's Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (Iger) is working on a new variety of the pearl millet plant grown in Africa and Asia.

In 2005 it developed the plant's DNA to make it more resistant to attack from a disease known as downy mildew.

Iger is working with scientists in India and Ghana on the latest project.

Iger has received a 700,000 grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council and the UK's Department for International Development for the four-year project.

Pearl millet is the staple crop grown by farmers in the hottest and driest regions of sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

'Drought tolerance'

But declining water resources and unpredictable rainfall posed serious threats to crop productivity, said Dr Rattan Yadav, who is leading Iger's research team.

"Key segments of pearl millet DNA are already known to Iger scientists and plant breeders in India have already made use of fundamental genetic research carried out at Iger over the years," said Dr Yadav.

"But declining water resources and unpredictable rainfall now call for further research into efficient breeding for drought-prone environments."

He said the ultimate aim was to improve farmers' livelihoods, but to achieve this the "drought tolerance" of pearl millet had to be developed.

Gareth Thomas, UK Minister for International Development, said investing in science and research was essential in providing farmers in poor areas with a better life.

"This research, bringing together UK, African and Asian scientists, has the potential to revolutionise farming in the developing world and reduce global poverty," he added.

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