Depending on what part of the world you live in, you may not even know about sorghum. However, this crop, native to Africa and Australia, but grown in many places around the world, is very important. Now scientists at The University of Queensland have found a way to improve sorghum – they discovered genes that could increase sorghum’s grain size.
One of the most important characteristics of sorghum is its ability to withstand drought. As the climate is changing and extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, crops like this may become vital. In Australia sorghum is the third-largest crop, used for animal feed, but also for human consumption. Meanwhile farmers in Africa have been cultivating sorghum for thousands of years, because of how resilient this crop is. In the West people value sorghum as a low-GI, gluten-free and nutritious grain. But, of course, it could be improved.
We need to use our farmlands very efficiently. We need to grow more food without taking more space and one way to do it is to increase the grain size and, inevitably, yields. Scientists in Australia have been studying the genome of sorghum and identified which genes were associated with grain size. Scientists say that the new knowledge would allow them to make new varieties of sorghum which would feature two times larger grains.
Of course, it is not only genetic factors that are responsible for the weight of the grain. Environmental conditions are also very important. However, researchers found that genes account for as much as 80 % of the grain size characteristics. Essentially, this knowledge would help scientists to improve sorghum yields while not using any more water or land.
Dr Youngfu Tao, who mapped the sorghum genome to help identify which genes were associated with grain size, said: “We demonstrated that genetic diversity exists in the sorghum gene pool for grain size. Genetic makeup largely determined an individual sorghum plant’s grain size, however environmental conditions also had an effect.”
Sorghum is likely to become a very important food crop in the future. Currently it is mostly used as animal feed, but it is increasingly being used in cereals and other foods for human consumption. Sorghum is used to make syrup, alcohol or consumed as cereal. It can also be used to make fuels and alcoholic beverages. It is likely that the importance of sorghum is going to grow with the changing climate, which is why scientists are trying to improve its cultivation techniques.
Although many of the readers are not familiar with sorghum, it is going to become more popular because of the simple fact that it’s very resistant to droughts. Hopefully, scientists will maximize the yields to save even more water and land.
Source: University of Queensland