In the news...

September 20th, 2017 / B4FA.org

Cassava-disease breakthroughs dominate the news this week. A team of African and American scientists have identified genetic markers of resistance to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and cassava mosaic disease (CMD) in East African cassava varieties Namikonga and Albert. The scientists crossed the two varieties via hand pollination, and the resulting offspring had genetic markers resistant to both diseases – both of which are responsible for massive losses in harvest in Tanzania and Uganda.

“Our findings show that Namikonga resists the virus by restricting its multiplication in the plant. This gives us new hope in our efforts to control the disease and revive cassava production,” says plant scientist Teddy Amuge, the project’s lead researcher in a story published by IITA, which also notes that this is the first large-scale study of how some cassava varieties can resist pests and disease. “We are very excited by these results, and are now working on approaches to allow plant breeders to quickly transfer this resistance into other, high yielding cassava varieties,” said corresponding author and principal investigator Morag Ferguson, in the same article.

Meanwhile, a groundbreaking new genomics tool is being deployed in Ugandan and Tanzanian cassava fields to help farmers fight CBSD and CMD. The Nanopore MinION, developed in Oxford, is a low-cost, portable DNA sequencer that has been used to monitor changes in Zika and Ebola. Now, a group of scientists working as the Cassava Virus Action Project is deploying it to identify which strains of virus are attacking cassava crops on specific farms in real time, allowing farmers to quickly respond to avoid crop loss. The 100-gram, $1,000 MinION puts the power of sequencing in the hands of African scientists who have direct access to farmers, obviating the need for sending samples overseas to be sequenced, a process that requires months and results in degraded samples.

In global biotech news, scientists belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement acknowledged the importance of and adopted a new resolution supporting biotechnology during a meeting on science and technology held  in Zimbabwe in late August. The meeting included experts from Cuba, Egypt, Gambia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In a keynote message, Zimbabwean biochemist Professor Christopher Chetsanga stressed GMOs safety for human consumption, stating, “Most African countries still fail to take full advantage of biotechnology in agriculture and industry… There are continuing false rumors about GMOs being health hazards to humans.”

From the B4FA Fellows, we hear from Lominda Afedraru, who writes about Ugandan scientists’ efforts to breed key crops such as maize, cassava, rice, sweet potato, banana using both conventional and biotech methods in a bid for higher-yielding, pest- and disease-resistant crops, and from Michael Ssali, who writes that the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and breeders at National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI), have introduced new varieties of robusta coffee that are both higher yielding and resistant to coffee wilt disease.

As we have mentioned previously, the current funding of B4FA is about to end, and we are urgently searching for future support. This is now imminent, so if you feel that this weekly newsletter, our Tweets and website (www.B4FA.org) are useful and that you could help, please contact us at [email protected] soon as possible for further details. We hope to hear from you.

As ever, please send questions, comments and story links to [email protected] and visit B4FA.org for further reading and useful resources. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with daily news and join the conversation.

Global

Genetic markers against deadly cassava viruses found
SciDevNet

Amsterdam wants to revive talks on new plant breeding techniques
EurActiv

Study reveals new opportunities to cut greenhouse gas emissions in India
CIMMYT

Sweet potato genome provides insights on its revolutionary history
ISAAA

CRISPR-Cas9-mediated mutagenesis of SlMAPK3 reduces drought tolerance in tomato
ISAAA

India: Farm scientists from National Academy of Agriculture Sciences thrash GM critic’s arguments
Deccan Herald

Italy’s GMO corn ban unlawful, European Union court rules
Genetic Literacy Project

World hunger again on the rise, driven by conflict and climate change, new UN report says
WHO

Netherlands wants CRISPR gene-edited crops exempt from Europe’s GMO laws
Genetic Literacy Project

Closer look at popular organic fungicide copper sulfate–how does it compare to glyphosate?
Genetic Literacy Project

Talking Biotech: Activists push glyphosate cancer scare as proxy to limit use of GE crops
Genetic Literacy Project

Scientists unlock secrets of photosynthesis
ISAAA

Hidden hunger: How anti-GMO activists are blocking humanitarian biofortification in Africa and Asia
Genetic Literacy Project

Video: How insect-resistant Bt GMO eggplant rescued Bangladesh’s staple crop
Genetic Literacy Project

Innate spuds gaining foreign-market approval
Capital Press

Climate-smart crops: a necessity for future food & nutrition security
AllAfrica

Grow vegetables in a maize-meal bag
Dr Martin Maboko, Agricultural Research Council (ARC)

Feed the Future and CGIAR partnership promotes agriculture-led growth
CGIAR

The Regulator’s perspective: Why some gene-edited plants are not GM-regulated in Sweden
GlobalPlantGPC

Viewpoint: Outdated regulations responsible for recall, destruction of harmless GE petunias
Genetic Literacy Project

Pan-Africa

A new genomics tool is being deployed in East African cassava fields to help save crops and lives
TED Fellows

Non-Aligned Movement scientists adopt resolution supporting biotechnology
ISAAA

The foreign invader costing African farmers $3 billion
IRIN News

Agribusinesses and African smallholders seize US$1 trillion food market: AASR
African Farming

AGCO leads sustainable business projects for African smallholders
African Farming

Making sense of knowledge life cycles in African agriculture
Herald

Announcing 2017-2019 Next Einstein Forum Fellows, Africa’s top scientists solving global challenges
Next Einstein Forum

Invest in smallholders, R&D to spur food security
SciDevNet

Kenyan scholar Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o wins Africa’s top food prize
AllAfrica

Training programme set to boost rice output in E Africa
AllAfrica

Angola

Bié – Over 10.000 peasant families get agricultural inputs
AllAfrica

Ghana

Ghana, Equatorial Guinea sign MoU to modernise agriculture
Graphic

Kenya

Kenya tops Africa in enabling agribusiness, says World Bank
TheStar, Kenya

Concentrate efforts on agriculture, president urges counties
AllAfrica

Text message network connects offline farmers in Kenya
AllAfrica

Plant health agency ups fight against fake seeds
AllAfrica

Kenya selected for Feed the Future, a global food security initiative
US Embassy in Kenya

3.4 million at risk of starvation as maize harvest falls short in 2017
AllAfrica

Hybrid maize boosts yields for Kenyan farmers
Egghead, University of California, Davis

Madagascar

Madagascar to lay focus on land governance in its Agricultural Investment Plan
African Farming

Malawi

Fall armyworm attack winter maize in Salima
AllAfrica

Mozambique

Forecast for rainy season favorable for agriculture in Southern Africa
Southern African News

Nigeria

Nigerian govt, FAO seal pact to curtail spread of armyworm maize disease
AllAfrica

Promoting bio-fortified crops
The Nation Online

Famine averted but millions still at risk, stresses top UN relief official
AllAfrica

Pursuing food self-sufficiency with fertilizer investment
AllAfrica

South Africa

Young farmers encouraged to push through challenges
AllAfrica

Tanzania

Researchers solve mystery of how “Namikonga” variety can withstand effects of viral cassava disease
IITA

Armyworm invasion wipes off 12% yield
AllAfrica

Dar saves 11 billion under fertiliser bulk procurement system
AllAfrica

Uganda

Scientists intensify crop breeding
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Do we need new coffee varieties?
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe govt drafts GMO labelling regulations
AllAfrica

Farmers launch seed company
AllAfrica

Opportunities and resources

European Commission Conference “Modern biotechnologies in agriculture”, Brussels, 28 September 2017

Accepting Applications for 2018 Borlaug Fellowships, deadline November 5, 2017