Research Article: DNA record of some traditional small millet landraces in India and Nepal

Date Published: June 11, 2016

Publisher: Springer Berlin Heidelberg

Author(s): Subramanyam Ragupathy, Shanmughanandhan Dhivya, Kirit Patel, Abiran Sritharan, Kathirvelu Sambandan, Hom Gartaula, Ramalingam Sathishkumar, Kamal Khadka, Balasubramanian C. Nirmala, A. Nirmala Kumari, Steven G. Newmaster.


Despite the extensive use of small millet landraces as an important source of nutrition for people living in semi-arid regions, they are presently marginalized and their diversity and distribution are threatened at a global scale. Local farmers have developed ancient breeding programs entrenched in traditional knowledge (TK) that has sustained rural cultures for thousands of years. The convention on biological diversity seeks fair and equitable sharing of genetic resources arising from local knowledge and requires signatory nations to provide appropriate policy and legal framework to farmers’ rights over plant genetic resources and associated TK. DNA barcoding employed in this study is proposed as a model for conservation of genetic diversity and an essential step towards documenting and protecting farmers’ rights and TK. Our study focuses on 32 landraces of small millets that are still used by indigenous farmers located in the rain fed areas of rural India and Nepal. Traditional knowledge of traits and utility was gathered using participatory methods and semi-structured interviews with key informants. DNA was extracted and sequenced (rbcL, trnH-psbA and ITS2) from 160 samples. Both multivariate analysis of traits and phylogenetic analyses were used to assess diversity among small millet landraces. Our research revealed considerable variation in traits and DNA sequences among the 32 small millet landraces. We utilized a tiered approach using ITS2 DNA barcode to make 100 % accurate landrace (32 landraces) and species (six species) assignments for all 160 blind samples in our study. We have also recorded precious TK of nutritional value, ecological and agricultural traits used by local farmers for each of these traditional landraces. This research demonstrates the potential of DNA barcoding as a reliable identification tool and for use in evaluating and conserving genetic diversity of small millets. We suggest ways in which DNA barcodes could be used in the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights in India and Nepal.

Partial Text

Cultivated for centuries, millets are an important source of human food in semi-arid regions of Asia and Africa. In present day India, pearl millet and sorghum are the two major millets that undergo large-scale cultivation with commercial implications at the global level (Rai et al. 1999; Gruère et al. 2009). Unfortunately, traditional landraces of small millets have been marginalized and their distribution is threatened. Small millets are equally important as major millets, but there is a lesser known group of six species that compromise thousands of traditional landraces (Nagarajan and Smale 2007; Gruère et al. 2009). The six different species of small millets cultivated by farmers in India are as follows: little millet (Panicum sumatrense Roth ex Roem. & Schult.), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum L.), Italian millet (Setaria italica (L.) P. Beauv.), kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum L.), Indian barnyard millet (Echinochloa frumentacea Link.), and finger millet (Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn.) (Newmaster et al. 2013a, b, c). Compared to pearl millet and sorghum, these millets have shorter slender culms and smaller grain size (Maloles et al. 2011). In Nepal, finger millet (Elusine coracana) is one of the commonly grown millets and an important staple crop in the hill and mountain farming systems, especially in the rainfed and marginal agricultural lands. The total area under finger millet cultivation was 268 thousand hectares with a national average productivity of 1.11 mt/ha in 2009/2010. It occupies nine percent of total cultivable land and around 75 % of finger millet cultivation areas located in the mid hills (Upreti 2002). Foxtail millet (Setaria italica), barnyard millet (Echinochloa frumentacea Link.), little millet (Panicum miliare) and proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) are other small millets grown in Nepal. Apart from the morphological differences, it is the incredible underutilization of small millets that distinguishes them from the major millets. Although these landraces have considerable utility for farmers, these “small” millets have received relatively low market and research support for enhancing crop area, production, improvement and utilization (Nagarajan and Smale 2007).




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