How African scientists are improving cassava to help feed the world

Researchers in Nigeria are combining genomics and conventional breeding to improve the starchy staple crop

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Geneticists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, and his colleagues are on a mission to improve cassava (Manihot esculenta). Also known as yuca or manioc, its starchy roots provide food and income to more than 800 million people worldwide. In Africa, where consumption is highest, cassava plants bear smaller yields than their cousins in Asia and South America. But African varieties tend to be more tolerant of blights, such as the deadly cassava mosaic disease now spreading across Asia.

In November, Ismail Rabbi, a geneticist at IITA, shipped five varieties of African cassava that resist the disease to Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter. Project scientists are using genomic data to identify useful traits for breeding cassava varieties that will suit the world’s needs — safeguarding against starvation as the climate warms, populations grow and viruses spread.


By: Amy Maxmen, Nature News

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