Research Highlights

Targeted breeding for chickpea improvement

Published online 12 November 2021

Genomics-led breeding strategies could improve chickpea traits and crop performance.

Letizia Diamante

There are many different varieties of chickpea seeds.
There are many different varieties of chickpea seeds.
Rajeev Varshney for ICRASAT
Genomic analyses reveal that most chickpea breeding lines lack some desirable traits that are present in old varieties, called landraces, grown by farmers for hundreds of years. The study disclose the history of the pulse and suggest ways to improve yields and nutritional values of cultivated varieties. 

An international team, including researchers in Egypt and Morocco, sequenced more than 3,300 chickpea genomes to examine genomic diversity across various wild and cultivated strains. This allowed the researchers to trace the history of chickpea domestication and diffusion from its origin in the Fertile Crescent to other parts of Asia and Africa. 

The team identified 1,582 novel genes, including some that might be helpful in enhancing chickpea resistance to drought, temperature stresses and diseases. The researchers also compared genomic data with crop performance in six locations in India and found favourable sets of DNA variations in landraces that are not present in 80% of cultivated varieties, as well as undesirable mutations responsible for reducing crop yield. 

The team proposed three breeding approaches that could improve the 100-seed weight – an important yield-related trait – by up to 23%. They involve introducing genomic variations that could improve specific traits in cultivated varieties, improving overall crop performance by choosing the best lines based on genome profiling data, and selecting parent plants that provide a good balance between crop performance and genetic diversity. 

“These approaches are expected to redefine chickpea breeding strategies for developing high yielding and nutritious chickpea varieties that meet the demands of smallholder farmers in India and elsewhere,” says Rajeev Varshney, research programme director at International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India, and professor at Murdoch University, Australia, who led the study, together with Liu Xin from BGI-Shenzhen and BGI-Qingdao, China.


Varshney, R.K., et al. A chickpea genetic variation map based on the sequencing of 3,366 genomes. Nature (2021).