Institute for Integrative Genome Biology

IIGB Scientists Receive $1.6M Grant to Sequence Cowpea Genome

A team of IIGB scientists has received a nearly $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to sequence the genome of the cowpea and further their research developing superior cowpea breeding lines.

The cowpea, which also includes black-eyed peas, is one of the most widely grown legume crops in the world and number one source of protein in the human diet in sub-Saharan Africa. It is closely related to soybeans and other warm-season legumes, but is more drought and heat tolerant. It is the most widely grown legume that lacks a published reference genome sequence.

The principal investigator of the grant is Timothy J. Close, a professor of genetics in the Botany & Plant Sciences department. A high quality reference genome sequence of the cowpea will put researchers in a better position to develop new cowpea varieties with desirable traits, such as higher yield and quality, disease resistance, pest resistance and drought tolerance that are needed in the face of a growing world population, food security issues and climate change.

Since the late 1970s, cowpea research at UCR has contributed to a deeper understanding of the legume’s adaptation to drought, heat and poor soils, and its ability to resist pests and diseases. Collaborative efforts with African cowpea breeders have resulted in development of successful varieties in Senegal, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Ghana, with several new varieties released in the last two years.

In total, the UC Riverside cowpea research program has garnered more than $13 million in funding in the last decade, much of it then provided to West African partners as subawards or spent on their behalf for research services, training and travel.

The just-announced National Science Foundation-funded project, known as “BREAD: Advancing the Cowpea Genome for Food Security,” starts April 1, 2016 and will continue for three years. In addition to Close, five other UC Riverside scientists are involved: Philip A. Roberts, a professor of nematology; Stefano Lonardi, a professor of computer science and engineering; Shizhong Xu, a professor of genetics; and Ph.D. research faculty Bao-Lam Huynh and Maria Munoz-Amatriain who have worked with cowpea in recent years. Close, Roberts and Lonardi are all part of the UC Riverside Institute for Integrative Genome Biology.

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