Wild relatives of Australian chickpea uncover new hope in fight against family of farming pests

Wild relatives of Australian chickpea

New research from the University of Southern Queensland delves deep into the family history of the chickpea.

Like an episode of SBS program ‘Who Do You Think You Are,’ a University of Southern Queensland (USQ) research project has taken a deep dive in to the chickpea family tree, uncovering wild relatives in faraway places that hold secrets that could alter the next generation of Australian chickpea varieties.

Supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the USQ-led project has investigated a new collection of wild chickpea species from Turkey found to be more resistant to tiny worm-like pests – known as root lesion nematodes – than Australian chickpeas.

Dr Rebecca Zwart from USQ’s Centre for Crop Health said the world-first investigation has the potential to greatly benefit Australian chickpea and wheat growers.

“Chickpea is Queensland’s biggest pulse export and is commonly grown in this region in rotations with wheat,” Dr Zwart said.

“Root-lesion nematode cause major damage to chickpea and wheat crops. Nearly 80 percent of paddocks in the sub-tropical grain region of eastern Australia of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland have these nematodes in their soil,” she said.

“Even when resistant varieties are planted, these nematodes can survive in the soil. So, while a farmer might grow a resistant variety or crop in a couple of seasons, if they plant a susceptible variety then those nematodes activate with a new food source and the populations build up over again. That’s why it is important for farmers to have resistant varieties for all the crops that they grow.”

Fellow project researcher Roslyn Reen said around 30 per cent of the wild chickpea species from Turkey were found to be significantly more resistant to root-lesion nematodes than the least susceptible Australian chickpea variety.

“Chickpea itself doesn’t have a diverse gene pool to work with so looking to its relatives for clues is important, and our research has shown that there are two wild species, that can be crossed with commercial grown chickpea varieties to offer greater nematode resistance,” Mrs Reen said.

“The next step will be looking for the genes that cause resistance in these wild chickpea species and tagging them with molecular markers. In this way, the new resistance genes can be tracked through the breeding process to ensure that when the wild relatives are crossed with chickpea they pass on the resistance genes through the family tree to future Australian chickpea varieties,” she said.

“Having more effective genes for resistance will protect chickpea crops from yield loss as well as reduce residual populations of root-lesion nematode in the soil. Long term we’d hope this results in more flexible farming rotations with other crops to allow for increased profit and opportunities for Australian farmers.”

Source: USQ