A team of academic, government and industry researchers has completed a first draft of the cassava (Manihot esculenta) genome. The project is an important first step in accelerating the pace of research on this subsistence crop and addressing some of the many limitations that face cassava farmers around the world.
Cassava is a root crop that serves as the primary food source for more than 750 million people each day. Although it has many properties that make it an important food across much of Africa and Asia, it also has many limitations. Cassava has poor nutritional content and is susceptible to many pathogens, particularly in Africa, where one third of the continental harvest is lost each year to viral diseases. One of these, Cassava Brown Streak Disease, or CBSD, is currently the major threat to food security in some parts of Eastern Africa.
In response to the urgency of this threat, and building upon the newly available cassava genome sequence, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $1.3 million grant to University of Arizona researchers who will lead an international consortium to develop a genome variation database that will provide breeding tools to aid farmers in improving cassava, with a special focus on increased resistance to the CBSD virus.
Steve Rounsley, associate professor in the School of Plant Sciences at the UA and a member of the BIO5 Institute, will coordinate the project that includes partners at the Institute for Genome Sciences, University of Maryland, Baltimore, the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), and 454 Life Sciences, a Roche Company.
The impetus for the genome sequence began in 2003 with the formation of The Global Cassava Partnership (GCP-21), co-chaired by Dr. Claude Fauquet, director of the International Laboratory for Tropical Agriculture Biology (ILTAB) at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC) in St. Louis, and Dr. Joe Tohme of the Internati
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University of Arizona