Research Fellows Directory
Dr Rudo Ngara
University of Durham
In recent years, many sub-Saharan African countries have been gripped with devastating drought episodes causing massive crop losses. Some of the worst affected countries are now importing grain to feed their people. With the predicted persistence of low and erratic rainfall patterns on the continent, there is an urgent need to devise ways to protect food crops under extreme drought stress conditions. Royal Society funding has enabled initiation of collaborative research between my group and Dr Stephen Chivasa (Durham University, UK) to study how sorghum, a naturally drought-tolerant cereal crop, adapts to and maintain its yield in low rainfall. We are using state-of-the-art proteomic technologies to identify all the proteins secreted by sorghum cells when they sense a strong water deficit. Our hypothesis is that these proteins (and metabolite signals) could underpin the adaptive response to drought, which enables sorghum to survive severely low soil water content not tolerated by other crops. We are specifically interested in secreted proteins as these could be used as signals to neighbouring cells to synchronise the adaptive response.
We generated sorghum cell culture lines from germplasm with known phenotypic traits towards drought stress. We are using these cells to identify differentially expressed secretory proteins under water deficits. These datasets will provide us with new insights into the sorghum drought adaptive response. Comparative analysis with drought-sensitive species could prove fundamentally critical in devising new strategies to optimise plant growth and yield in crops currently under threat from persistent droughts. The outcomes could have a transformative impact on food security.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)