Photo K. Dhanji/ILRI

Opportunities for Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) improvement using molecular genetics

Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum Schumach.) is a fast-growing perennial grass native to Sub-Saharan Africa that is widely grown across the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is a multipurpose forage crop, primarily used to feed cattle in cut and carry feeding systems. Characterization and diversity studies on a small collection of Napier grasses have identified a moderate level of genetic variation and highlighted the availability of some good agronomic traits, particularly high biomass production, as a forage crop. However, very little information exists on precise phenotyping, genotyping and the application of molecular technologies to Napier grass improvement using modern genomic tools which have been applied in advancing the selection and breeding of important food crops. In this review paper, existing information on genetic resources, molecular diversity, yield and nutritional quality of Napier grass will be discussed. Recent findings on characterizing disease resistance and abiotic stress (drought) tolerance will also be highlighted. Finally, opportunities and future prospects for better conservation and use arising from the application of modern genomic tools in Napier grass phenotyping and genotyping will be discussed.