Close explained that to breed improved varieties of cowpea, scientists must understand its genetic makeup, mark the location of genes that control important traits, and select the best trait combinations they wish to see emerge in new varieties. Close also explained that with very dense genetic markers it is not crucial to understand exactly which genes underpin the traits, though such information can be helpful for purposes such as finding similar genes within collections of genetically diverse relatives of cultivated cowpeas or even in other plants.
Rather than genetically modify cowpea via manipulation of genes in test tubes, the researchers will use the marker-assisted breeding technology to expedite conventional breeding and, thereby, speed up the production of new and improved cowpea varieties. Associated with traits desired for breeding, the genetic marker profiles of progeny derived from carefully chosen parents will be used to more deliberately design and assemble new superior cowpea varieties.
"We are no longer confined to slower, less directed methods of plant breeding, nor must we base all hope on genetically modified organisms," Close said. "With marker-assisted breeding we can, over just a few years, accomplish improvement in cowpea varieties that can enormously benefit farmers, markets and consumers."
Philip Roberts, a professor of nematology and the principal investigator on the $2 million USAID grant, explained that the marker-assisted breeding technology for cowpea, developed at UCR, is based on finding genetic variability in cowpea that already exists in nature and that can then be brought into breeding programs.
"Our method is focused on finding genetic variability that nature has already cre
|Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala|
University of California - Riverside