Crop growth and productivity has largely been vulnerable to various abiotic stresses that are only set to be compounded due to global climate change. Therefore, developing improved varieties and designing newer approaches for crop improvement against stress tolerance have become a priority now-a-days. However, most of the crop improvement strategies are directed towards staple cereals whereas attention on minor cereal crops of regional importance such as millets, lag far behind. Millets are small-seeded annual cereal crops which are mostly grown in dry marginal soils of arid and semi-arid regions of Asia and Africa. Excellent nutrient composition and exceptional buffering capacity against variable climatic conditions make them wonderful model crops for stress tolerance and nutritional quality trait studies. Germplasm of various millet models have shown a large range of genotypic and phenotypic variations. In some millet species, excellent ‘omics’ and germplasm panels are getting available that can act as a starting point for in depth understanding of molecular mechanisms governing important traits. In this line a comparative transcriptome analysis in response to dehydration stress in a millet model, foxtail millet was carried out and its comparison with the salinity stress transcriptome data showed that only 10% of the transcripts coincided under both stresses suggesting a distinct mechanism to perceive and respond to both stress conditions. Further, a novel DREB2-like gene SiDREB2 was characterized from foxtail millet, and an SNP associated with drought stress tolerance was identified and developed into an allele-specific marker which is useful for allele mining and marker-assisted selection. A first set of intron length polymorphism markers applicable for genetic/comparative mapping, molecular genetic diversity studies and germplasm characterization in foxtail millet was also developed. A genome-wide identification and expression profiling of AP2/ERF transcription factor genes suggested potential candidates that could be exploited for stress tolerance. A detailed understanding of abiotic stress tolerance mechanisms in millet models through transcriptome and genome-wide association studies would be very useful in crop improvement programs.

Dr Charu Lata

Dr Charu Lata is a Visiting Academic (Indo Australia Early & Mid-Career Researchers Fellow 2016-17) at QAAFI, University of Queensland. She is working as a Scientist at CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, India and is also an Assistant Professor in Biological Sciences at the Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research, New Delhi. She was a DST-INSPIRE Faculty at the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, New Delhi from March 31, 2012 to January 31, 2014. 

Charu was awarded a PhD in 2011 from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi after graduating with a Master in Agriculture (Molecular Biology & Biotechnology) in 2007 from G. B. Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar, India. Her Doctoral Research Work was awarded “Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Research 2012” by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi. She is a recipient of Young Scientist Medal from leading Science Academies of India. 

Her current research interest includes understanding the mechanisms regulating abiotic stress responses in crops, and also those regulating beneficial plant-microbe interactions under these stresses. Her research work at QAAFI involves analysis of full-length transcript isoforms to understand the developing wheat seeds transcriptome and use it as a reference database for analysing heat stress response genes in contrasting wheat cultivars. She has completed two GoI funded projects as Principal Investigator and has published more than 20 articles in renowned international journals.

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