Wild millet from Australia’s Channel Country could help feed the world as climate change affects established grain crops, University of Queensland researchers hope.
Doctoral student and Global Change Scientist Rahul Chandora to Queensland Agriculture and Food Innovation Alliance works with Center of Excellence for Plant Success and Mithaka Corporation for genome analysis Echinochloa turneriana or Channel millet.
Mr Chandora said Channel millet grew in the border region between Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales.
“Sorghum has great potential to diversify our traditional diet because it is highly nutritious, highly adaptable, climate-resistant and gluten-free,” he said.
“Sorghum is grown on all continents, especially in India and Africa, but the use of the crop is still limited to indigenous communities – we want to make it mainstream.”
For the first time in Australia, a study of plant genetics is being carried out in collaboration with an archaeological project.
Mr Chandora said English millet may once have been an important food for the Mithaka people in central Australia, something his research and project, called Testing the dark emu hypothesis.
“Genome analysis of wild English millet will help to assess its past use and identify its future potential,” said Mr Chandora.
“Primary millet species have lower yields than other cereals and production is affected by problems such as lodging, seed breakage and seed size.
“If we can learn more about the genetics of Channel millet, we can identify favorable traits and use gene editing technology to quickly domesticate it.”
“We hope to expand the gene pool of farmed millets and eventually replace our reliance on grains such as rice, wheat and maize.”
The research team will also look at the conservation and management of Channel Millet.
“Since it is a wild species, we need to conserve it in its natural habitat and collect and store it in seed banks,” Mr Chandora said.
“Climate change will mean that such genetic resources can disappear very quickly, and without joint efforts we will not have access to them in the future.”
“We need to find new crops to meet the nutritional needs of a rapidly growing world population, so this work is very important and exciting.”
The United Nations recognized the potential of the crop and announced that by 2023 International Year of Millet.
Image above left: UQ PhD student Rahul Chandora.
Images are available via Dropbox.
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