Cassava

Nigel Taylor, the principal investigator for the VIRCA project, checks the stems of cassava plants at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

As botanist Nigel Taylor moves through a greenhouse kept to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 percent humidity, he checks the stems of young, potted cassava plants.

“You can see it there, OK?” Taylor said, pulling one forward. “We’re getting lesions on the stem, this plant’s quite badly infected.”

Call it manioc, tapioca or cassava — this starchy, tropical tuber feeds millions of people around the world. In many parts of East and Central Africa, farmers are experiencing declining yields of cassava due to brown streak virus, a plant disease that can render a crop inedible.

For the past decade, scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur have led a project that tries another tack: genetically modifying cassava plants for disease resistance.

(via Flickr/Intenational Center for Tropical Agriculture)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur $8.3 million to increase the nutritional value of a staple crop in Africa.