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UC Riverside Awarded $7M for Cowpea Marker-Assisted Breeding Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Two teams of investigators at the University of California, Riverside have netted nearly $7 million through two new grants from the US Agency for International Development to use genomics technologies and marker-assisted breeding to develop better cowpea crops, UCR said yesterday.

One of the projects, led by Professor Timothy Close in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, received nearly $5 million to create the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate-Resilient Cowpea, a partnership with four West African countries: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal.

The second grant provides around $2 million to extend a 10-year project to search for genetic variation in cowpeas that already exists in nature and which can be easily introduced into breeding programs. This grant, which will be headed at UCR by Professor Philip Roberts, was awarded through the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Grain Legumes as a subcontract from Michigan State University.

Their goal is to use marker-assisted breeding to expedite conventional breeding processes, accelerating the development of improved cowpea varieties. The traits the investigators are most interested in include resistance to a drought-associated fungal pathogen, tolerance against drought-induced early senescence, and resistance to insects, nematodes, and diseases, as well as yield and maintenance traits such as size and seed coat color and patterns.

Computational biology will play an important role in these studies, and both teams will work with UCR Professor Stefano Lonardi, a co-principal investigator who will help to process the data these projects will generate.

“We will use a computational method that greatly reduces the possibility of making mistakes and also reduces the cost,” Lonardi said in a statement. “This method makes it possible to mark where in the genome the genes are located that influence, say, drought-tolerance.”

The university's cowpea research program goes back three decades, it hosts a collection of more than 5,000 cowpea accessions from across the globe, and it has a long-standing partnership with West African nations, where the legume is an important food crop, UCR said.

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