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SCIENCE / SEEDS: Apomictic cotton hybrids - a scientificbreakthrough promises a seed

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  There's a new, exciting story on the cotton campus.
         It's called apomictic hybrid
SOURCE: The Indian Express, India
AUTHOR: Vivek Deshpande
DATE:   11.05.2007

There's a new, exciting story on the cotton campus. It's called  
apomictic hybrid
A scientific breakthrough promises a seed revolution.

Nagpur, May 10: In what could be an important breakthrough in  
agro-technology, scientists at the Central Institute for Cotton  
Research (CICR) have been able to apply apomixis—a technique to  
develop cotton hybrids that behave virtually as varieties—enabling the  
farmers to replicate the seeds themselves. It promises an end to the  
costly hybrid bargain for cotton farmers before every sowing season,  
and if everything goes well, farmers using other crops will also  

Cotton farmers across the country spend more than Rs 1,000 crore  
annually on seeds. If and when completed, the apomixis mission will  
help save the poor farmers this precious money. The Indian Council of  
Agriculture Research (ICAR) has already given a nod to the apomixis  
project submitted by the CICR under the Technology Mission for Cotton  
(TMC) and has even released the necessary funds.

,,Apomixis has been noticed in some grasses like sugarcane and  
sorghum, but so far the varieties couldn't be stabilised and so it had  
no commercial value," says B.M. Khadi, CICR director, who has  
successfully carried out the apomixis technique on cotton along with  
L.A. Deshpande, head of CICR's crop improvement department at the CICR.

,,Hybridisation involves developing a cross between female and male  
plants. This needs to be done afresh every year by companies selling  
hybrids. Now, for the first time, we have been able to apply the  
apomixis technique to fix heterosys (creation of superior progeny of  
crops)," says Khadi.

The advantages of having this variety is that it is non-contaminable  
and non-outcrossable (natural crossing with other varieties), thus  
maintaining the quality for all future generations of the variety.  
,,What is special about the apomictic hybrid is that all plants are  
similar to each other, with no segregation being noticed from  
generation to generation," says Khadi.

The apomixis story actually began at the Cotton Research Station of  
Marathwada Agriculture University (MAU), Nanded, in the 1990s, where  
the then cotton specialist Anil Ansingkar crossed three cotton  
species—G. arboretum (desi) cotton known for jassids and drought  
resistance, Hirsutum (American) cotton, known for its big bolls, high  
yield and ginning percentage, and Barbadense (Egyptian) cotton known  
for its long staple and strength—to come out with a good variety with  
good economic characters. Ansingkar observed that three plants of the  
,,abnormal trispecies crop" showed apomictic characteristics.

,,We were fortunate to have that. We have been working on it for more  
than three years," says Khadi. ,,We followed it up by applying it on  
hybrids and have already fixed heterosys in a few hybrids," he adds.

Khadi also hints at the possibility of introducing it in other crops.  
,,We can sequence the gene responsible for apomixis and then it can be  
introduced in other crops to develop their apomixis varieties like the  
way Bt gene can be introduced to create a Bt variety," he says.

Mangala Rai, director general of ICAR, says, ,,It's a breakthrough  
with great potential. It will take about 10 years to make it a  
commercial success, but when you have a commercially valuable  
apomictic hybrid, it will be a virtual revolution."

C.D. Mayee, former CICR director and now with the Agriculture Research  
Scientists Recruitment Board, Delhi, also hails it as a potentially  
great achievement.

,,Currently about 70 per cent of cotton is under hybrid cultivation.  
If you have an apomictic variety with the same vigour (high crop  
qualities) as the best hybrids, it will hold a great promise for the  
farmers," he says.

Ansingkar says, ,,Fixing of heterosys in hybrids is great news. It  
will prove to be a great boon for farmers once we have commercially  
ready apomictic hybrids."

What is apomictic hybrid?

- What we now have are either hybrids or varieties. Hybrids are  
crosses that need to be reproduced every year to maintain the basic  
characters such as yield, fibre and quality, as its use next year  
results in segregation (different plants showing different  
characteristics). That's why farmers have to buy hybrid seeds afresh  
every year.
-Varieties are the natural species, whose seeds the farmers can  
replicate themselves.
- Hybrids are made by crossing males and females of parent plants. The  
first generation hybrids are called F1.
- It is in this F1 stage of the trispecies cross done at MAU, Nanded,  
that the CICR scientists have been able to fix heterosys by applying  
the apomixis technique.
- The hybrids so produced will behave as F1 variants for all  
generations without showing any variability like the present hybrids do.
- This will enable the farmers to reuse the seeds every year or buy  
them at Rs 50/bag as against Rs 400-Rs 900/bag that they currently pay.

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