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Scientists alarmed by rapid spread of Brown Streak Disease in cassava
Date:5/5/2013

t, by the mid-2000s, half of all cassava farmers were benefiting from these varieties in large parts of East and Central Africa. But by a cruel twist of nature, both improved and local varieties all succumbed to the 'new' pandemic of CBSD.

Unexpected Plot Twist: Whiteflies Ambush a Climate-Resilient Crop

Interest in cassava has intensified across Africa as rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns caused by climate change threaten the future viability of food staples such as maize and wheat. Cassava has been called the "Rambo root" for its extraordinary ability to survive high temperatures and tolerate poor soils. But rising temperatures now pose a threat to cassava because they appear to be one of several factors causing an explosion in whiteflies, which carry the viruses that cause CMD and CBSD and pass it along as they feed on the plant's sap.

Compounding the effects of rising temperatures, scientists also think that genetic changes have led to the emergence of "super" whiteflies. This toxic mix of circumstances affecting a tiny fly threatens to shoot down the "Rambo root," bringing the misery of food insecurity to vast swathes of Africa.

"We used to see only three or four whiteflies per plant; now we're seeing thousands," said James Legg, a leading cassava expert at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). "You literally have a situation where human beings are competing for foodwith whiteflies."

Farmers also help spread the disease by planting new fields with infected stem cuttings. Scientists note that while it would take several years for the disease to spread across the continent via whiteflies alone, infected stem cuttings could spark outbreaks in new areas overnight.

Experts to Develop Plan to Stop Viruses in their Tracks

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Contact: Michelle Geis
mgeis@burnesscommunications.com
301-280-5712
Burness Communications
Source:Eurekalert

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