Scientists Safeguard Food for Millions; N.Wales Expertise Foils Crop Disease

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Byline: DAVID GREENWOOD

567 8 A DISEASE resistant plant, which could mean the difference between life and death for families in some of the world's poorest countries, has been developed in North Wales.

Scientists at Bangor University have used DNA technology to develop a new strain of pearl millet - which is known as the poor man's harvest.

They are now waiting to see how the plant, which has taken a decade to develop, behaves in some of the hottest and driest parts of India.

Tens of millions depend on its grain to eat and its leaves and stems to feed their animals.

It can grow in places where no other crops can survive but is susceptible to downy mildew - a disease similar to the one which caused the devastating Irish potato famine.

Working closely with an international team of experts, including some from Aberystwyth University's Institute of Grassland Environment Research, researchers at the Bangor-based Centre for Arid Zone Studies (CAZS) believe their new hybrid will fight off the pest. Professor John Witcombe, of the CAZS plant science research programme, said: ``This is something new and very big. I believe it marks the beginning of a revolution in pearl millet breeding.''

More than half of the world's pearl millet is grown in India where it seems to survive almost anything, except downy mildew.

Mr Witcome added: ``This devastating disease can destroy up to one third of the crop and worryingly the most popular pearl millet hybrid grown in India is now showing signs of susceptibility to the disease. …