Overclocking the Humble Chickpea

Overclocking the Humble Chickpea

The (in my opinion) world’s most perfect legume is on track towards even greater perfection, thanks to some dedicated international scientists and a hardworking AI.

A huge recent project, led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), has assessed more than 3000 wild and domesticated varieties of chickpea, nailing down 1582 novel genes and mapping out the entire species’ pan-genome. A sub-team made up of University of Queensland researchers then processed this data with FastStack AI technology, and modelled what they call the “ultimate” chickpea. This uber-garbanzo features, in particular, perfect genetic traits for seed weight – a solid predictor for yield.

“Germplasm sequencing efforts in some crop plants have provided insights into the global distribution of genetic variation, how this diversity has been shaped by the genetic bottlenecks associated with domestication and by the effects of selective breeding, and, finally, how we can link this genetic variation to phenotypic diversity for breeding applications. Haplotype maps developed using whole-genome sequencing (WGS) data have helped to determine the percentage of the constrained genome and detect deleterious mutations that can be purged for accelerated breeding. Furthermore, sequencing and genotyping of a germplasm collection allows better conservation and management in genebanks.

On the basis of WGS of 3,366 chickpea germplasm accessions, we report here a rich map of the genetic variation in chickpea. We provide a chickpea pan-genome and offer insights into species divergence, the migration of the cultigen (C. arietinum), rare allele burden and fitness loss in chickpea. We propose three genomic breeding approaches – haplotype-based breeding, genomic prediction and OCS – for developing tailor-made high-yielding and climate-resilient chickpea varieties.”

Aside from the first world problem of developing a better-tasting hummus, unlocking the genetic secrets of this protein-packed pulse can mean more accessible and bountiful crops for different populations worldwide. To paraphrase Herbert Hoover, a “chickpea in every pot” – or the opportunity of it for anyone who needs it – sounds like a delicious nugget of heaven to me!