NICHE AREA OF EXCELLENCE
Integrated Centre for Drought Research
Department of Crop Physiology, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru 560 065









 

The Department of Crop Physiology has emerged as a leading national centre for research and training in major areas of Crop Physiology such as canopy photosynthesis and plant productivity, hormonal regulation of plant growth and plant molecular biology and stress physiology. Research at the Department has led to significant conceptual and technological advancements in these areas.

So far, the Department has had over 75 research projects funded from national, international and private funding agencies. Some of the major national funding agencies are Department of Science and Technology (DST), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Directorate of Non Conventional Energy Sources (DNES), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), etc., and among the International agencies are the International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Australian Council for Agricultural Research (ACIAR), AP-Netherlands Biotechnology Program for Dry land Agriculture, WOTRO, Netherlands. The Department is recognized as Advanced Centre for Research on Drought by DBT and ICAR.

The major research area in the Department is on crop improvement towards drought resistance. Crop improvement is being attempted in different plants including perennial crops like mulberry and coffee. The key to progress towards breeding for better crop production under limited water lies in understanding molecular mechanisms of stress response and identifying the relevant drought traits, and adopting modern biological and biotechnological tools to pyramid these traits onto elite genotypes.  It is now realized that to improve stress resistance under field conditions, besides the cellular tolerance, plant traits associated with water relation (water mining, water conservation and use efficiency) are important. From this context, the major emphases in crop improvement have been to identify (a) crop genotypes with specific drought tolerance traits, (b) genes that regulate drought adaptive mechanisms and (c) QTLs governing the relevant, yet, complex drought tolerance traits. A conceptual framework involving different inter-related sub-program such as drought gene and genotype (donor parent) discovery, transgenics, QTLs identification and marker assisted breeding has been developed and being executed. The drought research program is mainly supported by DBT and ICAR, Govt. of India.  Under this program many stress responsive genes regulating cellular tolerance have been identified from adapted crops like peanut and finger millet, and validated. Approaches to develop transgenic crops using 2-3 gene cassettes have been developed. The breakthrough in transgenic research has been development of genotype independent transformation protocols. For the first time, genotypes with drought tolerance traits have been identified in rice, finger millet, sunflower and groundnut. These are potential crop genomic resources a) to develop trait specific mapping populations b) trait donor parents for introgression and c) recipient genotypes for transformation expressing genes regulating cellular level tolerance.  Since the goal is to pyramid the traits, the first attempt to combine the traits by transgenic approach has given good leads in groundnut.

In addition to drought, the faculty in the department is actively working on other related areas of plant physiology. Some of the major ongoing projects are;

a.Understanding the mechanisms of salinity and heavy metal tolerance
b.Plant nutrient acquisition  and biofortification
c.Plant hormones and herbicide physiology
d.Conservation genetics and bioprospecting.

Significant contribution has been made in understating the mechanisms of salinity and heavy metal tolerance in plants. Attempts are being made to look at glutathione homeostasis and the links between heavy metal stress and oxidative stress in rice and groundnut seedlings. Biotechnological approaches to enhance salinity tolerance of major crops like rice, finger millet are being attempted. Similarly, through transgenics, attempts are being made to improve phosphorus uptake in legumes, like pigeonpea.

Research on conservation genetics and bioprospecting has given many leads in the fields and opened up many options for collaboration both at National and International level. In the recent past, the group has contributed to prospecting for few high value metabolites including camptothecin, an anti-cancer compound, shikimic acid, an important precursor in the synthesis of Tamiflu, a drug against bird and swine flu and galanthamine, a compound used against Alzheimer’s disease. Much of the group’s field activity is focused on plants of the Western Ghats, one of India’s biodiversity hotspot; for a few projects, plants of the Eastern Himalayas including Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh have also been evaluated. Most of the projects underway in this group are supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.


Important International Journals:  PNAS (USA), Plant Biotech. J., Intl. J. Plant Genomics; J. Ex Bot; Ann Bot; Ann Appld Biol., Crop Sci; Planta; Plant Sci.; Field Crop Res.; Biol. Plant; Biogeo Sci; Geophys. Res Let; Biotropica; Acta Horticulturae,, etc.

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