One of NRI’s flagship projects has won new and important funding to take it up to December 2023. The African Cassava Whitefly Project (ACWP) was formed in 2015 to increase the productivity of cassava, a nutritious root crop, and reduce food insecurity for millions of sub-Saharan African farmers, by discovering solutions to its most devastating pest and disease problems.
The new funding and ongoing support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) will support ‘focused extension activities’ including delivery of tangible outputs or products that can be utilised by cassava-breeders, small-scale cassava farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and the wider scientific communities.
This supplementary phase of the Africa Cassava Whitefly Project brings together eight years of research into a package of products that could be developed or licensed for future promotion and distribution.
NRI’s Prof John Colvin, who has been the Project Director of the ACWP since its inception in 2015, is due to retire at the end of April 2023 and Mark Parnell will take over as the leader for the final months under this new phase.
Mark Parnell explains that there are several research themes within the ACWP; one involves cassava pre-breeding activities, which are generating genetic markers for traits such as whitefly resistance within cassava. This will help the crop resist the whitefly even if it increases in number and brings the threat of new plant viruses.
Another is RNAi-based whitefly control. This approach uses transgenic cassava lines that target one or more genes specific to whitefly biology and essential to their metabolism. When expressed by the plant and ingested by feeding whiteflies, the RNA suppresses activity of these insect genes, causing death or disrupted development of the insect.
Mark Parnell says: “This project has been super successful. The fact that NRI has continued to be funded for eight years is evidence of that. In addition, the ACWP has spawned many scientific papers, publications and discoveries that are potentially very significant for many other crops beyond cassava.”
Watch a short film about the African Cassava Whitefly Project here.
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