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Leaving a bad taste in aphids’ mouths

89ff6.jpgBeans are a vital crop in eastern and central Africa, both as an essential part of the diet, rich in protein and micronutrients such as iron, and as a natural fertilizer, enriching the soil with fixed-nitrogen. However, aphid-transmitted viruses pose a serious risk to beans, resulting in large losses for smallholder farmers.

Previous work by researchers from the University of Cambridge has demonstrated that virus infection alters the biochemistry of plants to make them smell and taste different to insects, including aphids, which results in insects spreading the virus further. The project led by the University of Cambridge, UK includes partners from the Hub; Rothamsted Research; and the Eastern and Central African Bean Research Network (ECABREN) coordinated by CIAT, Uganda.

The team is surveying bean growing areas in three distinct ecological zones within Uganda to look at how virus infection shapes the distribution of aphids under natural conditions. In addition, the team will use a combination of molecular analyses, mathematical models and field observations to identify how to select and deploy plants that could act as decoys for aphids by attracting them.

The BecA-ILRI Hub team under senior scientist Jagger Harvey, leads a number of activities within the project directed toward identification of genes and small RNAs involved in bean-virus-aphid interactions. Next generation sequencing-based metagenomics is also being used for a first survey of known and unknown viruses affecting bean in East Africa, of direct relevance to national and international bean breeders. To better enable application of functional genomics, regeneration and genetic transformation are being further explored for common bean.

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