Home' Partners : Partners November 2013 Contents 28
NOvEMBER 2013 PARTNERS
the gene thAt mAde A difference
When the call to action against Ug99 was
issued, it is unlikely that even Norman Borlaug
could have anticipated how far and wide the
message would resonate.
In the home of the Green Revolution, a small
1.5-hectare tropical cropping farm on the banks
of the Cauvery River in India would prove a
leading player in the battle against Ug99.
Kuppusamy Periyannan and his wife,
Subhulakshmi, are innovators in their farming
community. While they have never participated
in an ACIAR project, they understand
something that developed nations can
easily ignore—the vital role science plays in
agricultural productivity to benefit the poor and
their rural communities.
It is an outlook that caused the Periyannans
to highly value an opportunity they were
denied—an education. They valued it enough
to take out loans on their farm to educate their
children but insisted that one, Sambasivam
(‘Sam’) Periyannan, bypass popular courses in
engineering or information technology (IT) in
favour of agricultural science.
Sam Periyannan was subsequently
responsible for cloning Sr33 while completing
his PhD at CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra,
supported in part by an ACIAR scholarship.
“At the moment there is an IT boom in India
and not many parents like their children to get
into agricultural science,” Dr Periyannan says.
“ They see there are opportunities after studying
IT. But my parents were different. My father
especially pointed me to agricultural science
and it was the science’s links to farming that
pushed me to try and excel at research.”
A plant pathologist by training, Dr
Periyannan completed his PhD with assistance
from ACIAR in 2011. He has chosen to stay
at CSIRO as a postdoctoral research fellow to
continue his work isolating two more novel
stem rust resistance genes (Sr45 and Sr22).
For CSIRO, the isolation of Sr33 is a long-
awaited innovation that radically changes the
rules for breeders. Dr Lagudah says that it makes
it possible to make informed, knowledge-based
decisions as to which genes to combine to best
thwart rust pathogens and obtain the most
durable forms of rust resistance.
“ We can even pre-combine genes and insert
them—like a cassette of genes—into one site
of the wheat genome, clearing the way for
breeders to focus their crosses on combining
beneficial yield and quality traits. The cassette
could even include tolerance genes to stresses
like salinity. ”
It is a vision shared by ACIAR and the GRDC,
which have both funded the CSIRO team, well
before the existence of the BGRI.
“ That support allowed us to gain the
attention of the Gates Foundation, which then
provided additional resources that accelerated
progress towards identifying individual
resistance genes,” Dr Lagudah says.
“Along the way we proved that it is possible
to do sophisticated molecular work with wheat
despite its large, cumbersome genome. In
turn, that means we can attract more young
scientists to risk working with wheat. So there
is a spectrum of benefits from this kind of work:
from research right through to the delivery of
real world impacts.”
For Dr Periyannan, there is an additional
benefit, one arising from ACIAR’s unique
position as both an R&D funder and a research
for development agency.
“I’m so happy and proud that part of the
work I do goes back to the farm—including
smallholders and subsistence farmers in
developing countries—through ACIAR’s work in
India, Bangladesh and other countries,” he says.
“My own roots are with smallholder farmers
the IndIA ConneCtIon
aciar action Australia and India share similar agricultural and natural resource management problems for
key commodity crops such as wheat, resulting in researchable issues of mutual relevance. ACIAr has supported
a program of collaborative agricultural research with India since 1983. most ACIAr programs in India consist
of bilateral projects, in which Australian research organisations collaborate with one or more Indian research
institutions, such as the Indian Council of Agricultural research (ICAr). the arrangement has benefits for both
partners allowing, for instance, Australian pre -breeders access to otherwise restricted germplasm or to field-trial
sites especially suited to research on water-restricted dryland farming. As Indian r&d capacity has grown over the
years the country has opted, like many developing countries, to invest heavily in its agricultural research sector.
this has resulted in projects where the Indian research partner is directly funded by India and working with
ACIAr-funded Australian teams on major productivity challenges. ACIAr’s strategy for 2011–16 focuses on joint
partnerships with increasing co-investment by ICAr and other partners focusing on four ‘clusters’.
1. research to improve agricultural water
management, particularly in rainfed
2. Sustainable intensification of
zero-tillage cropping systems that
3. Faster breeding of crops to target, in
the case of wheat, product quality
aligned with emerging demands for
better quality chapattis, bread and
biscuits from India’s 200-million-strong
4. Assisting policy development in relation
to agricultural adjustment, water
management and climate change.
Photo: Peter cornish
Rice commonly fails in the terraced uplands, as it has here in 2005.
Par ticipatory research developed aerobic rice culture to address this
problem and evaluated alternative kharif crops.
Sambasivam (‘Sam’) Periyannan and
parents kuppusamy Periyannan and
Links Archive Partners Winter 2013 Partners Issue One 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page