attempts at producing them have resulted in some progress. One notable success has been in breeding buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris)—a native African species, distantly related to sorghum, that is used as a forage throughout the tropics. Another has been with forage grasses of the genus Dichanthium (Bothriochloa).

Work on sorghum apomixis has now reached the stage where apomicts and vybrids from crosses between them have been formed in research facilities. The scientists are confident that the vybrids can now be developed for farm use.

Vybrids will benefit more than farmers. For sorghum breeders of all stripes, vybrids offer exciting potential. Sexual types can be used in the normal way to develop hybrids with superior characteristics and then induced into apomictic forms that will retain the new qualities, generation after generation, from then on.


One of the tragedies facing Africa is that a parasitic plant is cutting it off from the wealth of sorghums that have been, or are being, developed in a score of countries overseas. Indeed, striga is probably the greatest constraint to the production of foreign sorghums in Africa itself.

Recently, however, researchers have discovered a striga-resistant gene in sorghum. This could be a big breakthrough. For Africa, it will help open the door to the truly remarkable types developed in the Americas and China, for instance.

This topic is treated in Appendix A. It is made suddenly more relevant because a new test has been developed that can determine, within a few days, whether a certain sorghum (or other species) is resistant to striga. Tests in laboratories and greenhouses have been most encouraging. Should these results also prove practical in the field, it could open the way for overcoming the depredations of this vegetative parasite that victimizes desperately needed food plants. For the first time the crops will have the means to defend themselves.


The last 40 years have seen dramatic increases in the yields of wheat, rice, maize, and some other cereals. This has come not from boosting the plants' overall growth (as most people may think), but from rearranging their architectures so that the plants are shorter. With less energy going into stalk, more is left for growing grain. In

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement