Plant scientists at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the Department of Biology at the University of York are addressing this problem by using molecular technologies to rapidly improve the Artemisia crop. In the latest issue of Science, they publish the first genetic map of this species, plotting the location on the plant's genome of genes, traits and markers associated with high performance. This will enable scientists to recognise young plants as high performers from their genetics. It will also inform the selection of suitable parent plants for breeding experiments.
The map has been validated in glasshouse experiments that found the top-performing plants had elevated frequencies of genetic indicators for high yield. The project is led by Professor Dianna Bowles and Professor Ian Graham. Professor Graham says "The map is already proving to be an essential tool for us. With our new understanding of Artemisia genetics, we can produce improved, non-GM varieties of Artemisia much faster than would otherwise be possible." This speed is essential. "We intend to get high-yielding seed to farmers in the next 2-3 years in order to supply soaring demand for malaria treatments" explains Professor Dianna Bowles. "This is a really tight deadline and we can only do it with the benefit of the new knowledge provided by the map." The work demonstrates how modern genetics is shortening the timescales needed to turn a wild plant species into a domesticated crop.
The scientists at York are creating the new varieties for use by many thousands of small scale growers in the developing world, for whom the Artemisia crop is an important source of income. The project has just received its second grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates
|Contact: Elspeth Bartlet|
University of York