Author Archives: Mwihaki Mundia

Demystifying Passion Fruit Woodiness Disease

Florence’s study aims to save smallholder farmers’ from losing passion fruit production

Florence Munguti was an ABCF fellow at BecA-ILRI Hub in 2014 when she began her study to identify viruses associated with passion fruit woodiness disease.

In Kenya, the passion fruit is one of the top three export fruits, coming close behind the mango and avocado in terms of foreign exchange earnings.  It is grown mainly by smallholder farmers for subsistence and commercialization and has great potential to alleviate poverty due to its high market value and the crop’s short maturity period. However, many farmers are making great losses due to the devastating effects of the woodiness viral disease that stifles passion fruit production. This makes it one of the most dangerous diseases of the purple passion fruit.

In November 2014, she began her study with the collection of passion fruit leaf samples already showing symptoms of the disease in Njoro, Nakuru county, Kenya. At our laboratories, she used next generation sequencing to identify viruses associated with passion fruit woodiness disease in Kenya. The sequence analysis revealed the presence of complete genome sequences for Cow pea aphid-borne mosaic virus (CABMV) previously associated with woodiness viral disease in Kenya.

Woodiness disease is caused by the CABMV, transmitted by sap sacking insects such as aphids and mites as well as using infected tools in the management of the crop for example during pruning. The disease is characterized by light yellow discoloration on the leaves and a woody hard fruit, hence the “woodiness” name.

The sequences and information obtained in this study will be useful in development of more sensitive diagnostic assays that can be used to detect the disease. Florence’s paper titled: Transcriptome Sequencing Reveals a Complete Genome Sequence of Cowpea Aphid-Borne Mosaic Virus from Passion Fruit in Kenya is available here



[1]

How the ABCF program helped Bunmi develop new varieties to boost cassava production

Bunmi Olasanmi, a lecturer and a researcher at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, swears that the most exciting thing about science is developing improved varieties of crops for greater yields.

Olasanmi’s work focuses on cassava, he chose to work on cassava because it is vital to the economy of Nigeria, which is also the world’s largest producer of the crop in the world mainly through subsistence farming.

A new variant of the root crop is the yellow cassava, that is fortified with Vitamin A, a critical nutrient that meets nutrition requirements and improves human health. But biofortified varieties of cassava are susceptible to cassava mosaic disease (CMD). They also have poor plant architecture making them unsuitable for intercropping, which is important to small-scale farmers.

Selecting outstanding genotypes to develop CMD resistant varieties of cassava using conventional screening methods alone may take about 10 years. As an ABCF fellow, Olasanmi used molecular markers to accelerate the process of developing new varieties. Out of over 600 genotypes screened at BecA-ILRI Hub, he was able to identify 68 cassava genotypes with resistance to CMD and high beta carotene content. The clonal evaluation of cassava genotypes for desirable traits are ongoing and the field evaluations will be conducted at different locations in Nigeria for two seasons starting in 2019.

The University of Ibadan has a laboratory where Olasanmi could have done this work. However, it does not have adequate infrastructure to support all his research activities. Olasanmi received his PhD in plant breeding from University of Ibadan. He was awarded a fellowship from the Institute for Genomic Diversity at Cornell University and was a finalist in the third Africa-wide young professionals in science competition that was run by the Young Professionals in Agricultural Research and Development.

Providing opportunities for women in science

Despite the growing demand for cross-nationally-comparable statistics on women in science, national data and their use in policymaking remains limited. A study conducted by UNESCO, published in June 2018 indicates that women account for 28.8% of the world’s researchers

BecA-ILRI Hub is constantly seeking to close the gender gap by encouraging women researchers to participate in the different opportunities the platform provides.

Obaiya Utoblo is a PhD student at the University of Ghana, West Africa Center for Crop (WACCI), who had the opportunity to participate in one of BecA-ILRI Hub’s trainee workshops that equipped students with skills in science communication. The trainees were equipped with data management and communication skills, which provided them with the essentials of effective communication especially while speaking to a non-scientific audience.

While at BecA, Obaiya had the chance to interact with other women in science which gave her the valiance necessary to work towards her career goals.

Read more about her experience as a woman in science on the ISAAA website here

Mentoring women to become future leaders in science: Joanne Adero’s story

Growing up in Uganda, Joanne Adero’s dream was to be a doctor. Unfortunately, her dream to study medicine was not actualized, so instead she opted to embark on a course in biomedical laboratory technology at Makerere University. She discovered her love for science when she took a module on microbiology, this which led to her passion for research that put her on a path to study sweet potatoes.

Adero is a research assistant at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Uganda where she is part of the Genomic Tools for Sweet Potato Improvement Project team. Besides developing genomics and modern breeding tools, the project places emphasis on capacity building and empowering research staff of national partners to carry out molecular work within their programs.

Due to its outstanding effort in capacity building, the BecA-ILRI Hub offers a perfect base to train in the use of modern, high-end bioscience technologies including genomics, genetics and bioinformatics tools to facilitate crop improvement and improve genetic gains in sweet potato.

Adero secured an opportunity to conduct her research at BecA-ILRI Hub through the ABCF program. “Conducting my research at BecA-ILRI Hub was one of my best career decisions because it gave her the opportunity to develop my capacity in molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics,” she says.

While at BecA-ILRI Hub, Adero worked on molecular variability of sweet potato viruses to understand the nature of viral disease-causing organisms that are heavily affecting production of sweet potato in Uganda.

The project enabled the determination of sweet potato viruses that exist in Uganda and their genetic diversity and distribution. Ten different viruses were detected including sweet potato badnavirus and sweet potato symptomless virus which have not been previously reported in the country.

In addition, her work helped generate the full genome sequence of the sweet potato feathery mottle virus, sweet potato virus c and sweet potato chlorotic fleck virus in Uganda.

The Genomic Tools for Sweet Potato Improvement Project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and led by the North Carolina State University (NCSU) in partnership with the International Potato Center (CIP), the Boyce Thomson Institute at Cornell University, Michigan State University, the University of Queensland, the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organization, National Crops Resources Research Institute, the Ghana Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Crops Research Institute (CRI) and BecA-ILRI Hub.