What The Ebola Virus Can Teach Us About Saving Crops

Working with local farmers to protect their crops. Author providedWorking with local farmers to protect their crops. Author provided

When the deadly Ebola virus struck West Africa last year, one thing that became clear was that the region lacked access to quick diagnostic tools that could help identify those infected and help contain the virus’s spread.

As the world swung into action to combat the emergency, one crucial factor that helped to curb the epidemic was the arrival of backpacks containing portable genetic sequencing computers – a technology not readily available in the affected countries.

What has that story got to do with world hunger, beyond the fact that both hunger and disease are featured in the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals?

If we can bring the same technologies to bear against crop diseases as well as human ones, we can help eradicate hunger – a less newsworthy and more slow-burning problem than Ebola, but far more deadly in terms of the human toll.

Our research focuses on cassava, a staple food for some 800 million people in East Africa (and described by philanthropist Bill Gates as the world’s most interesting vegetable).

One of the biggest threats to cassava and the farmers who grow it are whiteflies, which transmit deadly plant viruses that cause the edible cassava roots to rot from the inside.

These “Cassava Brown Streak Viruses” can destroy entire crops. But typically the farmer does not realise the crop is lost until harvest time.

Our team has found that there are more species of these viruses than first thought, and possibly more still to be found.

Right now, to identify the virus species that are infecting an individual cassava plant, samples have to be transported to specialised laboratories across considerable distances – often to another country, or even another continent.

This is where rapid field genomics comes in. With access to fast genetic sequencing, similar to that used to stop the spread of Ebola, farmers can find out whether their cassava cuttings are infected before they are planted. Then they won’t have to worry if the cassava is healthy or not when it is time to eat them and ward off the hunger season.

Fighting off hunger

If we are going to get to zero world hunger, saving the cassava will be crucial. So how do we do it?

At a UN Solutions Summit held the day after the goals were adopted, we were among 14 innovators chosen to discuss our proposed solutions to the 17 global goals. Here’s what we suggest for protecting cassava in East Africa.

We need funding to help equip labs in East Africa with supercomputing (even if they are small clusters) and travel funding for me to take a crew of really awesome computational scientists to put on workshops for collaborators in the region.

Before that, we also need to increase funding for PhD student scholarships for East African scientists – so that these countries have people with the expertise needed to operate the computers.

In the longer term, a network of mobile diagnostic labs for cassava whitefly disease needs to be rolled out to farmers throughout the region, much like the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. These farmers need diagnostics to see if their plants are sick, and identify the specific virus and whitefly in their field and region.

If we can save the cassava, then genomic sequencing, supercomputers and other tools used to do it could potentially be used to fight similar outbreaks in countries all over the world that are struggling with pests and disease that threaten their food supplies.

Bringing the strongest women on the planet, the smallholder farmers in East Africa, into the light will only help the fight to ensure that people have enough food right around the globe.

About The Authors

Laura Boykin, TED Fellow | Research Fellow | School of Chemistry and Biochemistry | ARC CoE Plant Energy Biology, University of Western Australia

Joseph Ndunguru, Molecular Plant Virologist, Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute

Monica Kehoe, Research officer, Department of Agriculture and Food - Western Australia

Peter Sseruwagi, Researcher, Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute

Appeared On The Conversation

Related Book:

InnerSelf Market

Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.