Research Projects Into Improving Crop Plants Receive Major Funding

The University of Illinois has received a five year, $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the photosynthetic properties of key food crops, such as rice and cassava. The project, entitled ‘RIPE- Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency’ has the potential to benefit farmers by improving the productivity of staple food crops. Increasing photosynthetic efficiency has the potential to increase yields and reduce the use of irrigation and fertilisation, however to date there has been limited research on photosynthetic properties of crop plants. The University of Illinois research team will apply recent advances in photosynthetic research, model simulations and crop bioengineering to the RIPE project. Stephen Long, the Project Director and Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois said:

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation predict that the world will need to increase staple crop yields by 20% by 2050. Photosynthesis promises a new area, ripe for exploitation that will provide part of the yield jump the world needs to maintain food security”

Women oversea cassava harvesting in Nigeria, the largest producer of cassava © IFDC Photography, via Flickr (License CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Women over look cassava harvesting in Nigeria, the largest producer of cassava © IFDC Photography, via Flickr (License CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Cassava virus resistance breakthrough for Africa

Cassava roots

Cassava is a staple food for millions but is susceptible to viruses that make it unpalatable © Seth Anderson (CC BY SA license)

One of the worst diseases of the tuber crop, cassava, in sub-Saharan Africa is Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). Since its resurgence in East Africa in recent years, it is now spreading to Central and Western Africa. The other major disease of cassava in this region, Cassava mosaic disease (CMD), can also cause widespread damage to the crop, however there already CMD-resistant varieties of cassava available. Until now, very little natural resistance to CBSD has been found. Plant scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich have combined natural resistance to CMD with modifications of the cassava genome to develop a variety of cassava resistant to both CBSD and CMD that can be grown in Africa. As cassava is a staple food to millions of people, this new variety has the potential to halt the spread of the disease and prevent famine from crop losses. Read more of this post

Cassava – another superhero unmasked?

Cassava after infection from CBSD, Photo by IITA

For those of you keeping a watchful eye on the plant health news feed, you may have noticed a recurring theme around the topic of cassava crops in East Africa over the last few days. Cassava, a staple crop across sub-Saharan Africa, has been the subject of a well-established battle against Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD), but the recent spread of a new viral disease, Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), could cause both epidemic food shortages and a huge loss of income to farmers across the region.

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