Tea Research Foundation Central Africa (TRFCA), a regional tea research hub for Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe based in Mulanje, has started developing genetic fingerprints for some of its cultivars (varieties).
TRFCA director Albert Changaya said in an interview last week the work, which involves identification and use of genetic markers in breeding and selection, is being done to safeguard against unauthorised acquisition of the cultivars.
“Work on fingerprinting is being done by University of Nottingham in UK, using SSR markers. It is expected to be completed soon after the preliminary results for some of the SSR markers have been confirmed,” he said when giving an update on some of the research work being done at the centre.
Changaya said the use of genetic markers in the TRFCA breeding programme will start with screening materials, using Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) markers that associate with drought and quality.
He said arrangements have been made to visit the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College to establish areas of collaboration in genetic marking.
Changaya said they have also engaged in trials to determine the effect of three plucking methods, hand, shear and machine, on made tea volumetric of three varieties PC 168, SFS 204 and China seedling.
“The results are showing that different cultivars respond differently to plucking methods in terms of volumetric. PC 168 showed similar volumetric regardless of plucking method.
“Volumetric in SFS 204 and China tea were affected by plucking methods, high volumetric was obtained under shear plucking than under hand and machine plucking,” he explained.
Changaya said it was observed that fibre content has a significant contribution to average volumetric of made tea, which means that the higher fibre contents the higher volumetric.
Currently, TRFCA is assessing the drought tolerance potential of six cultivars and that preliminary results look promising.
Last year, the centre released four tea varieties that are thought to be high yielding and drought- resistant.