Gene breakthrough boosts hopes for sorghum

February 12, 2013
A photo released on December 12, 2011 by Oxfam shows a man standing in a sorgho field in the region of Sanmatenga, Burkina Faso. Agricultural researchers on Tuesday said they had found a gene that boosts the digestibility of sorghum, transforming a humble grain into a potential famine-beater.

Agricultural researchers on Tuesday said they had found a gene that boosts the digestibility of sorghum, transforming a humble grain into a potential famine-beater.

Sorghum (Latin name Sorghum bicolor) is a tough tropical cereal grown in dry regions of Africa, India and the southern United States.

The plant is drought-tolerant but ranks far lower than corn, wheat and rice as a food because the human digestive system cannot absorb many of its calories.

It is often grown as animal feed, and interest in it as a has also surged recently.

But, according to a study published in the Communications, sorghum's future may change.

Scientists in Australia said they had pinpointed a tiny variant in a gene which controls an enzyme called pullulanase that helps to break down starch in sorghum, making the grain more digestible.

The gene does not affect the grain's other helpful characteristics, they reported.

The next step should be to cross-breed commonly grown strains of sorghum with the variety that has the genetic variant in order to boost the crop's value as a food source for humans, the study said.

"Ultimately, increasing the calorific value of this crop without reducing yield can help to ensure global food security in drought-prone areas of Africa, Asia and elsewhere, while minimising negative effects of ," the paper said.

The work marks the latest advance in agricultural genomics, in which the DNA of key is sequenced to look for genes that influence yields or resistance to drought, flood and salinity.

The genome of sorghum was sequenced in January 2009.

Explore further: Gene controlling flowering boosts energy production from sorghum

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1 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2013
Genetically modified foods have become a popular topic worldwide with their ranging benefits. We have seen scientists develop higher yield crops, more reliable crops to farmers, and they have been modified in order to increase a crops nutritional value. If scientists are able to modify sorghum to become a more digestible crop, there can only be positives to result from this. Hunger has been a pressing global issue for a long time, and in need of a solution. A grain crop such as sorghum that can be grown in large amounts relatively cheap could provide huge relieve to aide in the issue of hunger. Its drought resistant nature would help provide a reliable food source, and crop to farmers globally. Since sorghum is a crop similar to that of corn the reality of a sorghum based fuel in the future should be very high, potentially aiding in another issue, that of the energy crisis. If this happens sorghums demand will grow creating a new demand for sorghum increasing its trade value globally

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