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Breeding drought tolerant cowpea: constraints, accomplishments, and future prospects
Visser, Richard G.F.
Linden, C.G. van der
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This review presents an overview of accomplishments on different aspects of cowpea breeding for drought tolerance. Furthermore it provides options to enhance the genetic potential of the crop by minimizing yield loss due to drought stress. Recent efforts have focused on the genetic dissection of drought tolerance through identification of markers defining quantitative trait loci (QTL) with effects on specific traits related to drought tolerance. Others have studied the relationship of the drought response and yield components, morphological traits and physiological parameters. To our knowledge, QTLs with effects on drought tolerance have not yet been identified in cowpea. The main reason is that very few researchers are working on drought tolerance in cowpea. Some other reasons might be related to the complex nature of the drought stress response, and partly to the difficulties associated with reliable and reproducible measurements of a single trait linked to specific molecular markers to be used for marker assisted breeding. Despite the fact that extensive research has been conducted on the screening aspects for drought tolerance in cowpea only very few—like the ‘wooden box’ technique—have been successfully used to select parental genotypes exhibiting different mechanisms of drought tolerance. Field and pot testing of these genotypes demonstrated a close correspondence between drought tolerance at seedling and reproductive stages. Some researchers selected a variety of candidate genes and used differential screening methods to identify cDNAs from genes that may underlie different drought tolerance pathways in cowpea. Reverse genetic analysis still needs to be done to confirm the functions of these genes in cowpea. Understanding the genetics of drought tolerance and identification of DNA markers linked to QTLs, with a clear path towards localizing chromosomal regions or candidate genes involved in drought tolerance will help cowpea breeders to develop improved varieties that combine drought tolerance with other desired traits using marker assisted selection.