Fifth in a series celebrating UBC Research Week, again organized by Connor Fitzpatrick:
Scott Black, a Dept. of Botany M.Sc. student supervised by Dr. Gary Bradfield, and Hannes Dempewolf, a Ph.D. student co-supervised by Dr. Quentin Cronk and Dr. Loren Rieseberg, are researching the crop species noug, Guizotia abyssinica. Scott provided the photograph and Hannes adapted the write-up from this brochure on noug (PDF) that he co-authored (published by the Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species).
What is noug?
Noug is an oil-seed crop, indigenous to Ethiopia and holds significant promise for improving rural livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa. The species is used in intercropping systems, grows on poor but also extremely wet soils, and contributes to soil conservation. While not fully domesticated, and suffering from low yields and susceptibility to insect herbivores, it contributes up to 50% of the Ethiopian oil-seed crop. Noug belongs to the Compositae family and is closely related to sunflower. It differs from domesticated sunflower mainly due to its high level of branching, numerous flower heads and small seeds. The oil content of noug seed varies from 30 to 50%. The fatty acid composition is typical for seed oils of the Compositae family with linoleic acid being the dominant component.
Ethiopia is well known as centre of diversity for several crops, including teff, enset and Ethiopian mustard. As a result, it has been suggested as Africa’s independent origin of domestication. Noug diversity is greatest in Ethiopia and Eritrea and local farmers are able to distinguish many different land-races. The process of noug domestication is incomplete, probably due to frequent interbreeding with its co-occurring wild relatives. Apart from Africa (Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe), noug is also cultivated in parts of South Asia (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan) where it was introduced several thousand years ago, and the West Indies.
The Rieseberg lab at UBC’s Department of Botany is at the centre of an international collaborative research effort that has been launched in order to understand and manage the genetic diversity of noug for its improvement. The challenge of the project (2007-2010) is to show how modern molecular breeding efforts can be adapted and implemented for neglected and underutilized species, such as noug, through research on their diversity. This approach is especially powerful when conducted in the context of genomic information and tools that have already been developed for related major crops, in this case sunflower and lettuce.
- collection, characterization and conservation of ecologically and genetically diverse germplasm
- initiation or re-orientation of existing breeding and crop deployment programs to capitalize on this diversity
- transfer of knowledge and technology to breeders and farmers in Ethiopia
With funds from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), scientists from UBC’s Department of Botany in collaboration with researchers from Addis Ababa University, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and Bioversity International have initiated this project last year and have already completed several components, such as the collection and characterization of several noug cultivars in Ethiopia. Currently, scientists are working in the laboratory to assess the genetic diversity and population structure of noug and its wild relatives.