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Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperation Program                                                            
Phase 3 (2007 Deadline)

Biotechnological Approaches to the Control of Ascochyta Blight of Chickpea  

Weidong Chen, Washington State University (WSU), Pullman
S. Sarwar Alam, Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), Faisalabad
Pakistani Funding (MoST):  $67,000
US Funding (USAID):    $127,219

Project Dates on US Side: March 1, 2008 - September 30, 2011

Project Overview

Chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) ranks first among legume crops in Pakistan and is an important source of dietary protein for many people in Pakistan. However, average yields for chickpea are quite low due to susceptibility to various stresses, both biotic (Ascochyta blight, Fusarium wilt, and insect pests) and abiotic (drought and cold). Among the stresses affecting chickpea productivity, Ascochyta blight caused by Ascochyta rabiei is one of the most important. This devastating disease is difficult to control, and chemical, cultural, and biocontrol treatments cannot effectively manage it. The overall research goal of this project was to advance control measures of Ascochyta blight of chickpea through understanding genetics of host resistance and pathogenic mechanisms of the pathogen. The project had four specific objectives: (1) to identify the resistant germplasm and study the genetics of resistance to Ascochyta blight of chickpea, (2) to map and tag the chromosomal regions involved using molecular markers for developing marker-assisted selection, (3) to determine relationship between phytotoxin production and virulence of the chickpea pathogen Ascochyta rabiei, and (4) to prove the roles of toxin production in causing the disease by generating non-pathogenic mutants via insertional mutagenesis and using complementation tests.

This cooperative research built upon the combined previous expertise of Dr. Alam and Dr. Chen, and the research tasks being undertaken by the Pakistani and US scientists were truly complementary. The research in Pakistan was focused on host resistance genes, while the research in the United States addressed mechanisms of pathogen activity. In summary, these researchers are working to gain a mechanistic understanding of the chickpea-Ascochyta rabiei pathosystem. Their results should not only facilitate management practices regarding this important disease in Pakistan and elsewhere, but also should advance basic understanding of host-pathogen interactions and improve the quality and capacity of education and research at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB) in Pakistan.

Major Results

  • Provided a female Pakistani PhD student with six months of training at Washington State University in modern plant pathology and molecular techniques
  • Determined the contemporary distribution of mating types of the fungal pathogen Ascochyta rabiei of chickpea in Pakistan
  • Discovered new virulent forms of the wilt pathogen Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. ciceris of chickpea in Pakistan
  • Identified new sources of resistance to Fusarium wilt of chickpea for Pakistani chickpea breeding programs
  • Established long-term research cooperation on chickpea research between Pakistani and U.S. researchers

Quarterly Update

Much of the work on this project had already been completed as of May 2011, thanks to ongoing communications between the researchers involved and an extended training visit completed by Ms. Hina Ali of NIAB to WSU from December 2009 through May 2010. A no-cost extension was issued on the US side through September 30, 2011, to allow time for additional experiments and preparation of results for publication. The goal for 2011 was to complete genotyping and phenotyping isolates of Ascochyta rabiei collected from Pakistan and to relate virulence of the isolates to the pathotypes; however, the main challenge is that the Pakistani principal investigator never received his funding for this project from the Ministry of Science and Technology, so he had to do his best to complete the tasks using existing resources.
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