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Health, Science, Environment

Danforth Center receives funding to expand cassava project to Nigeria

A cassava micro plant, grown in a Petri dish, is kept in a Danforth unit similar to a walk-in incubator.
File photo |Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
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A cassava micro plant, grown in a Petri dish, is kept in a Danforth unit similar to a walk-in incubator.

Researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center say a $10.45 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will allow them to expand a project to develop genetically modified cassava into Nigeria.

The country is the largest cassava producer in the world, and farmers there are watching closely as two plant viruses spread across central Africa. One of them, the brown streak virus, was once confined to coastal regions in southeast Africa. Strains of cassava that are genetically modified to resist the two viruses are undergoing field trials in Uganda and Kenya.

“There is significant concern that cassava brown streak disease is moving west and will progress out of central Africa and will impact cassava production in Nigeria and elsewhere in west Africa,” said Nigel Taylor, the project’s principal investigator.

The Nigerian field trials will use plants that are also engineered to be nutritionally enhanced. They were first tested in Puerto Rico.

“The calculation is that our cassava plants, after cooking and consumption would deliver between 40 to 70 percent of the iron and zinc needs of young children and women,” Taylor said.

The grant also will allow researchers to go forward with regulatory approvals for the virus-resistant cassava in Uganda and Kenya.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB

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