Today biotechnology is considered as the main driver of the emerging bio-economy in the world promoting sustainable green growth. Thus biotechnology proved to be very important for agricultural, industrial, health, and environmental applications. In recent years the Ethiopian government, recognizing the potential of biotechnology for the country’s sustainable development, has established biotechnology centers in a number of higher education and research institutions. However, biotechnology being knowledge- and capital-intensive discipline, many of these institutions suffers from shortage of a critical mass of trained manpower and lack the necessary laboratory facility to carry out sustained cutting edge research and training.
The Institute of Biotechnology (IoB) at AAU is the main institution mandated by the government to train the required manpower for all biotechnology departments and institutes throughout the country and play a leading role in carry out cutting edge research to address the country’s major development challenges. But IoB at AAU, though relatively well staffed and is based on decades of experience starting from the former Department of Biology at AAU, is not still fully self sufficient to meet these challenges. Therefore, it is important to form partnerships and collaborations with well-established institutions, such as SLU.
Development of a sustainable bio-economy that promotes green growth mainly depends on sustainable use of the available biodiversity using modern biotechnological techniques. Therefore, plant, animal, and microbial biodiversity are the main driving forces of the modern bio-economy that serve as a source of new products and services. Ethiopia as Vavilonian gene center of crop diversity is endowed with an enormous biodiversity that can serve as a platform to establish a successful bio-economy. Above all, Ethiopia has an extremely unique microbial diversity, many of them found in extreme habits, not found anywhere else in the world.
The first objective of this proposed project is to train Ethiopian students at PhD and MSc level in modern biotechnology and to develop capacity for research. The project will be a collaborative effort between SLU from Sweden and AAU from Ethiopia and aims at utilizing the country’s biological resources to develop novel products and services. In the project’s life span it is planned to train a total of 19 PhD and 30 MSc students from Ethiopia in modern biotechnology. Students will carry out their research in a sandwich mode and will be jointly supervised by staff from both partner Universities. A total six sub projects encompassing agricultural, industrial, health, and environmental biotechnology were identified. Under each sub project specific PhD research project titles are identified. Under each sub project PhD students will employ cutting edge biotechnology tools to address their specific topics.
INTEGRATING PLANT GENOMICS WITH CONVENTIONAL BREEDING TO ENHANCE THE QUALITY AND PRODUCTIVITY OF MAJOR CROPS IN ETHIOPIA
In Ethiopia agriculture is a major economic activity where 85% of the population engaged in it. And yet food security remains a key challenge that country perpetually faces. Several abiotic and biotic stresses have been identified as the major bottlenecks which results in significant yield reduction. Farming systems are, on the most part, smallholder owned and generally characterized by low yield per unit area caused by the use of unimproved local land races along with traditional management practices.
Ethiopia is one of the Vavilovian crop gene centers for finger millet (Eleusinecoracana), sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), durum wheat (Triticum turgidum ssp. durum) and noug(Guizotiaabyssinica),which are of great importance in food and nutritional security in this country. Finger millet and sorghum are known to save subsistence farmers from starvation when other crops fail due to extreme drought or other abiotic stresses. Durum wheat and noug are crops of ago-industrial importance with potential to supplement the budding ago-industrial sector while supporting the livelihood of farmers with proper value addition and improved market access. These crops are indigenous to Ethiopia and have been in cultivation for many centuries. However, they are barely tapped to contribute to improving the food security of the country.
In this context, the proposed applied research combined with PhD “sandwich” training aim to increase crop productivity and enhance food quality thus contributing to food security and balanced nutrition. The project also aims to develop genomic tools and resources that could be used for conservation and plant breeding.
SUB PROJECT 2:
Although agriculture is the most important activity in Ethiopia, because of such challenges as drought, poor soil fertility (soil acidity/alkalinity) and diseases, crop yield remains very low. On the other hand the country is experiencing dramatic population growth, which implies that agricultural productivity needs to be increased to feed the growing population. During the green revolution, countries in Latin America and Asia increased agricultural productivity through intensive use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides. However, intensive use of agro chemicals results in severe environmental pollution. In addition, smallholding farmers in Africa cannot afford the intensive use of agro chemicals. Therefore, to increase agricultural productivity in Africa it is necessary to use and develop other technologies that are environmentally safe and cheap to use by smallholding farmers.
Under sub project 1 of this project the use of conventional and molecular plant breeding is proposed as one approach to increase agricultural productivity which will be based on a solid platform of crop breeding developed at SLU (Prof. Ortiz SP1)1. However, with increasing unpredictability of weather conditions under climate change, plant breeding alone may not be enough to address these challenges. This, therefore, calls for strategies completing phenotypic plasticity and adaptability without curtailing yield potential. In this respect, plant growth promoting (PGRP) microbes offer enormous potential. The soil surrounding plant roots is one of the main sources of PGPR. Therefore, developing microbial bio fertilizers to promote plant growth and health is a geneal approach to improve crop prductvity. All plants are known to form beneficial association with microbes. Some of these phyto beneficial microorganisms live freely in the soil interacting with the plant (rhizosphere microbes) while others reside inside the vascular tissue of plants, collectively called endophytes. These phytobeneficial microorganisms help the plant aquire limiting nutrients, produce plant growth promoting phytohormones, or protect the plant from attack by pests and pathogens. Enormous metabolic capabilities of PGPRs in plant growth promotion and protection against abiotic and biotic stress is well documented by members of our team 2-8. Here we propose studies using assemblages of different PGPR with complementary and synergistic traits that will provide more effective and consistent effects 9.
Therefore, our main effort will be to integrate the activities of this subproject (SP2) with the activities proposed under SP1 to maximize yield of sorghum and finger millet. Work on phytobeneficial microbes will focus on sorghum and finger millet, two of the most important cereal crops in the arid regions of Africa. For both these crops Ethiopia is known to be the center of origin and/or diversity. Therefore, this project mainly focuses on microorganisms associated with cultivated sorghum and finger milet from different agroecological zones in Ethiopia and the wild relatives of these two crops.
In addition maximum effort will be made to isolate the different microbial isolates from some of the harshest environments in Ethiopia. Plant associated microbes isolated from such harsh environment are expected to have been co-evolved with the host and are thus expected to help the plant survive under such harsh conditions.10
IMPROVING FEED NUTRITION AND DECREASING ENTERIC METHANE EMISSION IN INDIGENOUS LIVESTOCK
Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa with close to 100 million cattle, sheep and goats with nearly 99% of which are indigenous breeds. Trends over the last few decades indicate that this number is expected to increase commensurate with increase in the population. However, yield of animal products such as milk and meat lag far behind those of improved breeds in commercial animal farms in the industrialized countries. Ruminant farm animals, particularly cattle, serve multiple purposes including milk, meat, leather/skin and drought. Moreover, farm animals also serve as status symbols, easily convertible source of cash and insurance against in times of hardship … thus are important social and economic assets.
Ethiopia has charted out the Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) Strategy to achieve middle income status by the year 2025 while maintaining greenhouse gas emissions at 2010 levels (estimated at 150MT of CO2e). Already, the last five years of rapid economic growth and expansion of cheap and renewable sources of energy are testament to the commitment to carbon neutral growth. However, what makes this goal daunting is that 90% of current GHG emissions originate from livestock and manure management. And this is expected to be exasperated with the projected increase in livestock population.
Despite the importance of farm animals in the lives of small holder farmers and pastoralists, the overwhelming majority of farm animals are under traditional management practices that rely on naturally growing forage plants with little input to increase the nutritive quality.
Methane is a major GHG produced in rumen by methanogenicarchaea that use enteric CO2 and H2 to form CH4. However, accumulation of H2 results in inhibition of the re-oxidation of NADH consequently also inhibiting microbial growth, forage digestion, and the associated production of acetate, propionate, and butyrate. Therefore, any mitigation strategy that reduces methanogen populations or activity must also consider alternative pathway for H2 removal from the rumen.
Though improved high quality animal feed can greatly contribute to reduce methane emission from enteric fermentation in intensive farming systems, under the current traditional extensive management practice of ruminant animals, in the short run, it’s impact on the national GHG emission will be inconsequential if it is the only choice of immediate intervention. Therefore, the proposed research project approaches the issue by investigating the rumen environment through better feed management and manipulating rumen biota.
One approach is to improve sheep performance by more balanced diets that would greatly reduce methane emissions per unit of product. This would include screening of local feed crops, individual and/or in mixes, for their methane emissions. The effects of different scenarios on methane emissions can be approximated using the Nordic dairy cow Karoline mechanistic dynamic model (Ramin and Huhtanen, 2012 and Huhtanenet al., 2008). In addition to this, in vitro methane production and nutritive value can be determined by automatic in vitro gas production system. Kinetic parameters estimated from total gas and methane production profiles are then used in a mechanistic rumen model to predict in vivo digestibility and methane emissions from dynamic rumen system. The method is also useful when estimating the activity of some anti-nutritional factors such as tannins.
The second approach will collect and isolate clonal colonies of acetogenic and methanogenic bacteria collected from sheep rumen/hindgut through serial dilution and pour plate techniques using selective media. The clonal isolates will be molecularly characterized by PCR amplification and sequencing of acetyl-CoA synthase genes and methyl-CoMreductase gene from acetogene and methanogens, respectively, to identify specific strains. Clone libraries of the variants of the amplified genes will be constructed.
The reductive acetogenesis will be assessed in vitro by co-culture assay (by co-culturing acetogens with methanogens in modified animal feed nutrient and comparing their methane production with methanogens cultured separately as a control). The ability of probiotic yeast to improve acetate production in co-culture assay will also be assessed.
Finally, the in vivo effectiveness of the acetogensrtains identified as superior methane mitigators (more efficient at capturing H2 for acetate production), along with probiotic yeast strains, will be assessed for their suitability in ruminnalycannulated sheep.
- Locally sourced improved and balanced diets of sheep to reduce methane emissions per unit product.
- Isolation of acetonogenes and methanogenes from local sheep rumen/hind-gut.
- Characterization and selection of acetogen strains with lower enteric methane emission properties.