ARS to be Part of New Team Improving Cassava
Kaplan July 11, 2005
Cassava, one of the most important food crops in Africa, is about to
undergo an extreme makeover in a multimillion-dollar project that will include
an Agricultural Research Service
scientist as part of the interdisciplinary team.
ARS molecular biologist
B. Cahoon's special responsibility will be increasing the cassava root's
vitamin A and E content.
Cahoon, a member of the ARS
Genetics Research Unit, is located at the
Donald Danforth Plant Science
Center in St. Louis, Mo., where he collaborates with center scientists to
enhance crop plants.
Ohio State University is leading the
$7.5-million, 10-institution cassava improvement project, called "BioCassava
Plus," under the direction of Richard Sayre. The grant runs for five years.
The Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation selected BioCassava Plus for one of the
foundation's $450-million, "Grand Challenges in Global Health" program grants
as an innovative solution to a global nutrition issue.
Cassava is the primary food source for more than 250 million
Africans--about 40 percent of the continent's population. It is the most
important crop in Africa, the fourth most important crop in the world, and
relatively easy to grow in drought conditions. The plant's starchy root is a
substantial portion of the diet of nearly 700 million people worldwide.
But cassava roots are low in protein and several micronutrients.
Team researchers will be developing cassava plants that have increased
levels of zinc, iron, protein and vitamins A and E, plus longer shelf life and
resistance to geminivirus. Danforth Center principal investigators Claude
Fauquet, a cassava expert, and Daniel Schachtman, an expert in mineral
nutrition, are other key participants in the project.
Once cassava varieties with higher vitamin A and E levels have been
developed in the United States, they will be grown and tested for production
and nutrient content under field conditions in Africa. Then the successful
cassava cultivars will be released to breeding programs to be incorporated into
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.