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Scientists crack pulses mystery

delhi Updated: Nov 02, 2011 23:29 IST
Zia Haq
Zia Haq
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Scientists are not known to provide cures to food inflation, but, sometimes, they can help in ways number-crunching economists can't.

Indian researchers have for the first time mapped a plant genome, that of arhar, a commonly consumed lentil. Arhar's demand is soaring but yields remain so low that the country has to rely on costly imports worth Rs 7,000 crore a year, which drives up retail prices.

To cut a long story short, scientists now have a clear idea of how many chromosomes the arhar plant has, along with its full DNA makeup, a breakthrough being seen as agriculture's equivalent of putting man on the moon. This information will help scientists precisely identify which genetic components need to be tweaked to raise yields.

The humble pigeonpea, grown across India, is a staple of millions. Its soaring prices are one of the reasons why Indians are paying the highest food prices in a decade.

Arhar is a key source of protein for the poor and also vegetarians.

Farmers, who cannot grow enough owing to low yields, have often looked to scientists to bail them out. But a breakthrough could have come only from a clear picture of arhar's full genetic composition.

The eureka moment came when a team of 31 scientists from the Indian Institute of Agricultural Research, a bunch of state agricultural universities and the Banaras Hindu University sequenced the entire plant genome of arhar after struggling on it for four years.

Lead scientist Nagendra Kumar Singh from the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology says faster development of high yielding, disease-resistant varieties of arhar - a distinct possibility now -can end India's reliance on costly imports.

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