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New Grain Sources for Developing a Cereal for Human Food / October 8, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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New Grain Sources for Developing a Cereal for Human Food

By Tara Weaver
October 8, 1998

Sorghum, a key grain crop, could get a boost from 30 new breeding lines, some of which have enhanced nutritional qualities.

Agricultural Research Service scientists, in collaboration with Texas A&M University, recently released the new lines. Some have higher levels of carotene, a key nutrient the body converts to vitamin A.

The new lines are part of an ongoing program to improve sorghum, the world's fifth- leading cereal grain. U.S. farmers use it primarily for animal feed. They prefer it to other grains because sorghum has superior drought tolerance, disease and insect resistance. The converted lines represent new germplasm sources from the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System, which maintains more than 40,000 sorghum varieties.

The new lines are tropical sorghums that have been genetically converted to grow in temperate areas. As a result, they can produce an early grain crop in temperate areas, where long summer days mean more sunlight than along the equator. Scientists developed the lines by crossing late-maturing sorghums—from India, Ethiopia and Nigeria—with early maturing varieties.

It takes five to 10 years to convert tropical sorghum germplasm into plants that will grow in temperate regions. Scientists are exploring new biotechnology procedures to speed up breeding, according to ARS sorghum curator Jeff Dahlberg.

Besides the 30 new lines, the scientists are releasing 30 partially converted lines. While not fully converted, they may be useful to researchers and sorghum breeders.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific Contact: Jeff Dahlberg, USDA-ARS Tropical Agriculture Research Station, Mayagüez, P.R., (787) 831-3435, ext. 241, fax (787) 831-3386, jdahlberg@ars-grin.gov.

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