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Sampling the success of the WorldVeg bitter gourd breeding program

Seed company breeders and researchers got a good close look at hundreds of bitter gourd breeding lines to choose the best 

The World Vegetable Center cucurbit team proudly demonstrated 400 bitter gourd breeding lines during Open Field Days, 21 August – 6 September 2016 at the WorldVeg East and Southeast Asia/Oceania Research and Training Station, Kasetsart University, Kamphaeng Saen, Thailand. Breeders, pathologists, virologists, and administrators from 15 seed companies and research institutions evaluated the advanced breeding lines for selection into their breeding programs.

Bitter gourd is cultivated on nearly 400,000 hectares in Asia and the bitter gourd seed market is highly specialized and segmented according to fruit morphology and taste. However, a common requirement is resistance to various diseases. “Molecular analyses of these lines have helped us to understand the genetic relatedness of lines, which provides clues to the breeders when choosing parents for their hybrid breeding programs,” said Narinder Dhillon, WorldVeg Cucurbit Breeder. “These lines represent a broader genepool due to their development from the global collection of bitter gourd maintained at the WorldVeg genebank.”


Visitors from East-West Seed, Thailand and Ajeet Seeds, India discussing the traits of bitter gourd breeding lines with WorldVeg Cucurbit Breeder Narinder Dhillon.

Visitors from East-West Seed, Thailand and Ajeet Seeds, India discussing the traits of bitter gourd breeding lines with WorldVeg Cucurbit Breeder Narinder Dhillon (right).

Visitors based their selections on vine stem vigor, copious branching pattern, disease resistance characters, fruit quality (shape, color, spine pattern) and ratio of female to male flowers and yield. “It’s important to demonstrate practically the uniqueness of the developed lines and to discuss in person how this material could be used to develop elite hybrids to satisfy growers, distributors, retailers, consumers, and seed companies,” Narinder said.

The cucurbit team also showcased some elite bitter gourd hybrids from different market segments (with attractive fruit color, shape, spine strength, enhanced yield, and disease resistance) developed using WorldVeg breeding lines—which further demonstrates the breeding potential of the Center’s unique breeding lines for the immediate gain of seed sector stakeholders. Narinder noted that exposure to these quality breeding lines motivates private seed sector breeders to get involved in collaborative research projects with WorldVeg.

He credited the cucurbit breeding program’s success to the hard work of his expert team led by Supornpun Srimat and Suwanee Laenoi (and Supunsa Phethin and Supannika Sanguansil, former key members of the WorldVeg cucurbit team) coupled with strong support from Regional Director Fenton Beed and regional administrative staff. Seed companies praised the effort of the cucurbit program to counteract the current scenario in commercial breeding: repeated cycling of a relatively small number of genetically related bitter gourd lines, resulting in a narrow genetic base of commercial bitter gourd cultivars in Asia.

Graduate students and scientists from Department of Horticulture, Kasesart University, Kamphaeng Saen Campus, Kamphaeng Saen, Thailand discussing the traits of bitter gourd lines.

Graduate students and scientists from Department of Horticulture, Kasesart University, Kamphaeng Saen Campus, Kamphaeng Saen, Thailand discussing the traits of bitter gourd lines.

Bitter gourd breeders are very keen to make better use of the diversity of bitter gourd breeding lines demonstrated by WorldVeg for sustainable bitter gourd breeding and production. The Center’s global Cucurbit Breeding program receives some support from the private seed sector and more seed companies have expressed interest in this program after observing the potential of WorldVeg bitter gourd breeding lines for direct use in their hybrid breeding programs.

In 2010 the WorldVeg global Cucurbit Breeding program was relocated from the Center’s headquarters in Taiwan to Thailand—where, without winter or typhoons to contend with, breeders can produce three crops per year to accelerate the breeding process. The natural existence of various fungal and viral cucurbit diseases aids in reliable identification of disease -resistant genotypes during selection in segregating populations. Moreover, in the hot and dry season of April-May, breeders can select the best heat tolerant cucurbit lines.

Story and photos: Narinder Dhillon, Sorawit Limsiriwat

It is very clear that you have deep understanding of breeding of bitter gourd and understand the requirement of farmers in this region. Your field layouts and meticulous design of planting of hybrids, inbred lines and crossing material has helped us in recording required information. To demonstrate the resistance of lines against different diseases, you have put the susceptible lines all around, at each end of the line and also in between, which helped us to record the resistant lines clearly. This is the best approach an international organisation can take to create public-private collaboration. You have not only demonstrated the variability of germplasm, but also created usable, saleable lines resistant to existing diseases.
Dr. Arvind Kapur, Rasi HyVeg (P) Ltd.
The bitter gourd experiment was very beautifully designed and professional. You put the susceptible lines at the head and the end of beds, so it was easy to identify the resistant lines. I plan to make hybrid combinations for the Vietnam market and we will evaluate in Vietnam next year.
Ngo Thi Hanh, FAVRI, Vietnam
It was a delight to visit the Bitter Gourd Open Field Days and we are sure that the farmers of Asia will benefit to a great extent from the increased yield and resistance to several biotic stresses. We feel privileged to be the part of the Cucurbit Collaborative Research Program, it is surely beneficial for our cucurbit breeding program. We’ll take it as our responsibility to transfer the benefits of your efforts to farmers.
Vimal Chawda, VNR Seeds (P) Ltd
The bitter gourd breeding program at this station is very useful to the commercial seed industry and we cordially thank you for your efforts.
K. Murali, Breeder-Cucurbits, Sakata Seed India (P) Ltd
The Center’s focus on disease resistance breeding with lines from across the globe contributes to farmers’ needs. The private sector can help in reaching more farmers to make your mission successful. I recall my visit to your place two years ago; I have witnessed great progress in germplasm development and disease resistance development with gynoecious lines. We really appreciate the performance of hybrids developed by WorldVeg.
Gopalkrishna Hegde , Noble Seeds Pvt Ltd
Visitors from Enza Zaden, India.

Visitors from Enza Zaden, India.

Visitor from Advanta Limited, India

Visitor from Advanta Limited, India

Visitor from Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute, Hanoi, Vietnam

Visitor from Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute, Hanoi, Vietnam

It was really a very good collection of elite bitter gourd materials, especially in medium to long market segments. One thing I observed, that apart from strong vines, good lateral branching and high fruit set, was that many entries were showing a good level of field resistance to mildews and viruses.

These lines will benefit the bitter gourd breeders of any organization in developing a good germplasm base and good hybrids in the medium to long segment.

Dr. Prashant Kumar, Sr. Breeder -- Cucurbits , ENZA ZADEN INDIA (P) LTD.
To be frank, before your work, no institute or university had this much diversified germplasm base or elite lines. There were very few published papers on bitter gourd breeding. Now after you joined the World Vegetable Center, we can proudly say that WorldVeg is the only institute that has such a diversified and strong germplasm base, with many publications. Your advances in bitter gourd pre-breeding and breeding in such a short time span are greatly appreciated. As a breeder I benefit from interacting with you and I am proud of our collaboration.
Anil M., Business Manager , Rasi HyVeg (P) Ltd
We appreciate your outstanding efforts — you have made bitter gourd sweet for the seed industry as well as the farming community! Due to your personal attention, the hospitability, accommodation and transport arrangements made our visit hassle-free.
Surendra Deshmukh, Senior Scientist, Ajeet Seeds Pvt. Ltd.
Your formulation of bitter gourd trials, particularly for disease screening, added some much-needed information to our knowledge.
Sunil S. Naik, Senior Cucurbit Breeder, Ankur Seed Pvt.Ltd.
We were impressed with the trial – especially the amount and quality of breeding lines and hybrids. There were many materials with good disease resistance and quality in various fruit types. We benefitted a great deal by visiting this trial and took away some important lessons from the experience.
Fatkhu Rokhman, PT. East West Seed Indonesia
I am pleased to see the rich bitter gourd germplasm in your collection and its diversity. Your three hybrids N, O, P were looking good, and were interesting to us. I appreciate your findings on heterotic groups in bitter gourd. Your knowledge on germplasm from different South and Southeast Asian countries will be a great advantage to your collaborators.
Dr. Elangovan M, India Vegetable Research Lead , Advanta Seeds, India
We were very much impressed with your approach towards research in connection with industry. This is not very common! Hats off to you for your vision and passion for your work! You have inspired us to do better in life…thanks!

Your R&D farm is impeccably clean and very well done. The commercial approach to breeding is much appreciated and I am sure many seed companies will benefit from your work. Big compliments to you and your team!

Kishore Rajhans, Group President, KF Bioplants, India
Visitors from Noble Seeds, India

Visitors from Noble Seeds, India