Possible benefits of deciphering cassava's genetic
code include not only improving it as an agricultural crop but also boosting
its potential for fuel ethanol in developing countries. Above, Ghanaian women
peel cassava, a food staple for more than 600 million people in Africa, Asia
and Latin America.
Image courtesy Food
and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; photo FAO/18293/P.
Scientists Gear Up To Decode Cassava Genome
Suszkiw August 30, 2006
Efforts to sequence the genome of cassava, a staple food for millions
of people worldwide, could yield the genetic keys to unlocking new traits for
improved yield, more protein and even novel industrial applicationslike
putting fuel in the gas tank.
Thats the hope of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists
Horvath, members of a 10-institute team that will sequence and annotate the
cassava genome starting this fall. The U.S.
Department of Energys Joint Genome
Institute is providing funding and technical assistance.
Anderson and Horvath, both with the ARS
Science Research Unit in Fargo, N.D., envision comparing cassavas
genome with that of leafy spurge, a close relative that's an invasive perennial
weed in 35 states. Key differences resulting from such comparison could foster
new ways of increasing cassavas stress tolerance and disrupting leafy
spurges shoot growth. Genomic information from cassava could also
expedite research to re-establish castor bean, another close relative, as a
domestic source of industrial oil, minus the toxin ricin.
Globally, the benefits of cassava genome sequencing could materialize
as new higher- yielding or more pest- and disease-resistant cultivars. Of
particular interest is coaxing more protein from cassava to better supplement
the dietary needs of more than 600 million people in Asia, Africa and Latin
America who rely on the crop as a main source of calories.
On the industrial front, ratcheting up cassavas starch
production under a wider range of conditions could set the stage for developing
countries to use the crop for making fuel ethanol. Indeed, cassava can maintain
high productivity under conditions that cause other crops to fail, including
corn, whose starch costs more.
Together with principal investigator Claude Fauquet of the
Donald Danforth Plant Science
Center in St. Louis, Mo., Anderson is assisting with the examination of 25
different cassava cultivars to determine which are best suited to the first
stage of sequencing. This will cover a portion of cassavas total
genome500 megabase pairswith the rest to follow, pending a
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.