We are at the start of our new project to use genomic technologies in the fight against plant pathogens transmitted by the whitefly.  For a few months, we have been preparing to work on-site with Tanzanian and Ugandan scientists and their local Farming communities.  Profoundly affected by the viruses that are currently devastating the Cassava crop, the farmers need new strategies to manage the uncertainties of the deadly plant disease. They need to know whether their crop is failing because of the viruses or some other reason. And if the viruses, then which one? Which strain?  Once they know, the correct action can be taken.

In September we’ll be doing a pilot project to take the latest portable and real-time DNA sequencing technology to the heart of the East African communities most affected by Cassava viruses.  Normally, using DNA analysis technology requires sending samples to a remote lab and waiting perhaps three months for the results. By this time, the information is no longer valuable. We’ll be working with the local lab in Tanzania, Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI), who will use the portable DNA sequencing device, the MinION, to characterise affected crops from the local community.

Many of the farmers affected are women, and most are in poverty.  This project is a true collaboration of people within the countries affected, but has benefited from scientific expertise from other countries, particularly Australia and the UK.  We want to empower those communities.

This genomic surveillance and diagnostic project – we’re calling it CVAP for short – is one of many designed to address the global threat of whitefly-borne viruses.  Other projects may be introducing resistant strains, trying to stop whitefly from crossing borders, understanding the host-pathogen relationship or providing education at the roots of the farming communities.  For more, visit the resources page of this blog.

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