Tag Archives: seed

Science breakthrough in African rice disease resistance | AfricaRice


Warda RYMV

Warda RYMV (Photo credit: IRRI Images)

Breakthrough in the resistance to the “AIDS” of rice

‘NIL 130’ was named “best rice variety” among seven being evaluated by a farmers’ cooperative in Gagnoa, Côte d’Ivoire. NIL 130 is a ‘near-isogenic line’ derived from ‘elite’ rice variety IR64 by the introduction of a gene for resistance to (RYMV) through a process known as ‘marker-assisted breeding’ (MAB).

Rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV) is probably the stress that benefits the most from molecular biology at the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice),” says AfricaRice molecular biologist Dr Marie-NoëlleNdjiondjop. RYMV is colloquially known as the “AIDS of rice”!

The AfricaRice MAB work targeting RYMV is carried out in collaboration with the Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), Montpellier, France, and various national (NARS) partners. AfricaRice has had fruitful collaboration on RYMV with IRD since 1994, shortly after the first devastating outbreaks of the disease occurred in various parts of West Africa.

RYMV is a disease of intensified irrigated rice production where high-yielding varieties have been introduced, and the vast majority of irrigated varieties are extremely susceptible to it. It only occurs in Africa. In 1995, AfricaRice discovered that a variety from Mozambique (Gigante) was virtually immune to the disease.

Gigante’s resistance was confirmed by Dr Ndjiondjop against a whole spectrum of RYMV isolates from diverse locations. Determining the genetic basis of Gigante’s resistance was given top priority. The resistance gene, rymv1-2, was identified and mapped in 1999 by Dr Ndjiondjop as part of her PhD studies at IRD.

“We are now using molecular breeding to improve the RYMV resistance of West African elite rice cultivars,” says Dr Ndjiondjop.

In 2005, a USAID-funded project enabled AfricaRice to carry out MAB to introgress (i.e. incorporate) rymv1-2 into elite rice cultivars of four West African countries (Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea and Mali) and to introduce molecular-marker work into the breeding programs of the NARS.

At least two elite varieties were proposed by each NARS and backcrossed three times to the donor Gigante. Resistant lines were identified by a combination of ‘foreground’ and ‘background’ markers.

Foreground markers occur in the DNA close to the RYMV-resistance gene in Gigante and therefore show that any particular plant has the gene, while background markers are from the elite variety and show how similar the plant is to the elite variety.

The resulting lines are near-isogenic lines, or NILs — that is, they are very similar to the elite variety, except that they carry the RYMV-resistance gene from Gigante.

The promising resistant NILs were then further screened under controlled conditions using a purified virus isolate. Trials were conducted at multiple locations in the target countries to confirm their resistance to diverse natural populations of RYMV.

Fixed (pure-breeding) RYMV-resistant NILs were then sent to the NARS for complete evaluation and incorporation into resistance breeding programs. The best NIL from each elite parent was selected for further trials in the four project countries plus six more countries (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone).

This activity was funded by USAID through the West and Central African Council for Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD). A number of these lines – like NIL 130 – are expected to be released in some of the countries in the near future.

In 2010, AfricaRice and IRD discovered a second resistance gene, rymv2, and a new allelic form of the first gene in African rice (Oryza glaberrima) varieties. As an insurance policy against RYMV overcoming single-gene resistance, the AfricaRice breeding strategy is to ‘pyramid’ two resistance genes in varieties for hot-spot areas

Source: AfricaRice.


Leave a comment

Posted by on September 9, 2012 in ECOWAS


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Enza Zaden expands on a large scale in South Africa | Enza Zaden

Enza Zaden is expanding on a large scale with two new branches in South Africa: one a joint venture in the field of Research & Development and the other a seed production branch.

Westcape Biotech Pty. Ltd.

On 18 July 2012, the vegetable breeding company Enza Zaden and the biotechnology company Expressive Research B.V. signed the contract for a joint venture named Westcape Biotech Pty. Ltd, based in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Enza Zaden is thus significantly expanding its capacity for cell and tissue cultivation activities in particular.

This joint venture will offer its cell and tissue cultivation expertise in the field of all major arable and ornamental crops to clients worldwide. In addition, this new branch will carry out biotechnological research for clients in the field of molecular diagnostics relating to pathogens and product quality in a broad range of crops.

More efficient breeding

The Director of Enza Zaden Research & Development B.V., drs. Joep Lambalk explains: “With the establishment of Westcape, Enza Zaden has considerably broadened its capacity for its activities in cell and tissue cultivation. Consequently, we are able to provide our breeders worldwide with even better support by means of products drawn from cell and tissue cultivation processes. The effectiveness and efficiency of the breeding process is hereby greatly expanded. We are now also able to exploit our expertise with regard to these processes beyond vegetable crops, benefiting various important arable and ornamental crops too.”

Expansion of expertise and activities

The Directors of Expressive Research, Dr Dianne van der Kop and Dr Douwe de Boer add: “We have built a good infrastructure at the site with state-of-the-art molecular and cell-biology laboratories, which together with our plant-growth facilities give a high-tech impulse to our ambition to play a leading role locally as a biotechnological service provider. The expertise and network of Enza Zaden allows us to support our expertise and activities in South Africa even better. As a result, we expect strong growth in our activities over the coming years.”

Enza Zaden South Africa

To support the seed production activities of Enza Zaden Seed Operations B.V. in South Africa, on 29 February 2012 Enza Zaden established in Oudtshoorn its own subsidiary Enza Zaden South Africa.
The Director of Enza Zaden Seed Operations B.V., ir. Vincent van Bentum, explains further: “Enza Zaden South Africa brings greater flexibility and independence. In order to be able to deal with the expected growth of our seed production activities in South Africa, we need to be on the spot ourselves with our own company activity”.

About Expressive Research

Expressive Research is an innovative company with shares in several biotechnological businesses. Besides cell and tissue cultivation, the company is active in the field of molecular diagnostics, for instance by means of a joint venture with the fruit cooperative Fruitmasters (Fruitmasters Expressive Research) and in genomic breeding and bio-informatics by means of a joint venture with a number of breeding companies in the vegetable and ornamentals sectors (Genetwister Technologies).

Source: Enza Zaden

1 Comment

Posted by on September 4, 2012 in COMESA


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Planting Seeds of Prosperity | USDA:FAS

Posted by Erin Tindell, Foreign Agricultural Service Public Affairs Specialist

Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda check the condition of virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries.  Photo courtesy of FAIM.COForestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda check the condition of virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries. Photo courtesy of FAIM.CO

Entrepreneur and horticulturalist Steve Jones was on a Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) agricultural trade mission (ATM) to Madagascar in 2006 when he first began thinking about how modern plant propagation techniques might help struggling East African farmers boost their productivity and prosperity.

“What I saw during my visit made an impression,” said Jones. Considering he and his wife, Cheryl, have 30 years of experience operating their business, Greenwood Nursery, in Tennessee, he knew there had to be something he could do that might make a difference.

The Joneses spent the next year developing a sustainable business model to improve the East African region’s agriculture and then coordinated with FAS to present his idea to more than 10 different African countries during the next FAS trade mission to the region in 2007. The overwhelming response from African representatives, especially the Ministry of Agriculture in Rwanda, pushed the Joneses to begin Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management Ltd. (FAIM).

FAIM’s goal is to establish plant propagation laboratories throughout Africa using the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants (seedlings) for African farmers. After a few years of research, in 2011 Rwanda invited FAIM to set up labs to develop and distribute 15-17 million virus-free banana starter plants for farmers in four out of the country’s five regions.

“Each region has specific diseases that affect the quality and production of the crop,” Jones said. “Their crop yield is, on average, 25 percent of what it could be per hectare measured against world standards. The problem is self-perpetuating if farmers use root division as their form of propagation, which passes viruses forward year to year.”

Instead of root division, Jones and other FAIM plant experts use plant tissue culture, which is a propagation process that extracts DNA from healthy plants within a crop to create virus-free seedlings without genetic modification. This breaks the disease cycle and allows for a consistent, high-quality supply. Plus, the seedlings are fairly cheap to produce and sell at a lower cost. Rwandan farmers using the seedlings are already producing 200-400 percent more than before.

Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda prepare pots for virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries. Photo courtesy of FAIM.COForestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda prepare pots for virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries. Photo courtesy of FAIM.CO

“The farmers are able to provide a consistent supply to market and make more money, raising their standard of living and giving them enough income to purchase new plant stock when needed,” Jones said.

FAIM’s efforts will help create extensive benefits not only for the East African region, but also for U.S. exporters. The successful implementation of the project will generate an ongoing requirement for inputs from the U.S. such as supplies, packaging, product transformation equipment and farming equipment.

ATMs contribute significantly to the expansion of U.S. agricultural products and the creation of jobs for American workers. In the past three years, FAS led more than 100 U.S. agribusinesses on trade missions to various countries including China, Peru, Indonesia, Vietnam, Iraq, Georgia, Colombia, Panama and the Philippines.

Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) entrepreneur and horticulturalist Steve Jones stands in front of his Rwandan farm. After an eye-opening agricultural trade mission to East Africa, Jones started FAIM to produce healthy, virus-free starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply.  Using plant propagation techniques, FAIM has already helped Rwandan farmers increase crop production by 200-400 percent. Photo credit Mary L. Robbins.Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) entrepreneur and horticulturalist Steve Jones stands in front of his Rwandan farm. After an eye-opening agricultural trade mission to East Africa, Jones started FAIM to produce healthy, virus-free starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. Using plant propagation techniques, FAIM has already helped Rwandan farmers increase crop production by 200-400 percent.Photo credit Mary L. Robbins
Source: USDA Blog
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 28, 2012 in COMESA


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mali: Rain but too few Seeds | IRIN

Major agricultural region in southern Mali, sh...

Major agricultural region in southern Mali, showing isohyet lines and crop intensity percentages. Mali’s most productive agricultural region located between Bamako and Mopti. Irrigation is practiced in this region, but irrigation water is used mainly for rice while cotton is grown as a rainfed crop. Average rainfall varies in this region from 500-mm per year around Mopti to 1400-mm in the south near Bougouni.(USDA: 2001) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Mopti (Photo credit: TataTimbo)

MOPTI, 17 August 2012 (IRIN) – It is raining in Mopti Region in central Mali and most of the fields are filled with millet and rice seedlings, turning the usually dusty landscape a vivid green. But interspersed with these are vast tracts of land that lie uncultivated because farmers could not get the seed to plant them.

The government estimates rice production this year could be reduced by 20 to 30 percent as a result, said USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network, (FEWS NET).

“This will have several dimensions: production will go down, farmers will be left more food-insecure, and they won’t have enough seed to plant next year,” said an international donor active in agriculture in Mali, who estimates that hundreds of hectares of land in Mopti will not bear crops this year because of seed shortages.

The cycle of drought and seed shortages, aggravated by political instability in adjacent northern Mali and a flow of refugees from there, has had devastating effects in Mopti region. Pockets of severe drought in 2011/12 left just 11 percent of households with enough seed to plant in this year’s season, the donor suggested. The closing of banks in Mopti to protect them from looters from the north has further squeezed farmers’ access to credit to buy seeds from elsewhere.

Most farmers produced enough grain in 2011 to last just five to six months, said Chery Traoré, agriculture programme manager at NGO Catholic Relief Services (CRS), leaving them with no seeds for planting because they had all been eaten, so they were forced to buy seed on the open market.

There is still a little time left to plant – Traoré says mid-August is probably the latest farmers can plant, but that is risky because millet and rice take several months to grow and the duration of the rains is uncertain, given the changing weather patterns affecting this region.

Farmers who managed to get seed to plant were positive about the rains so far, but still worried. IRIN spoke to two of them just outside of Sévaré, in Mopti Region. “We need these rains to last through August. If we can get good rains throughout, we may be okay this year,” said Moussa Touré. Mamadou Bodou, a father of 12, told IRIN: “I planted just one field this year – I can’t even pay off my debts with that – it will get me nowhere,” he said, pointing at the empty fields all around and stretching into the distance.

According to FEWS NET, the areas most affected by severe rice shortages are the agro-pastoral (mainly rice-growing) parts of Mopti Region, which stretch north all the way to Timbuktu, and the Inner Niger Delta zone, which relies on flood-based rice cultivation. The network predicts an average harvest in most of the rest of the country, but warns that a shortened rainy season and possible locust infestation would undermine the harvest.

Sightings of adult locusts have been reported in the Tamesna and Adrar areas of Kidal in northern Mali since May, but insecurity has limited access to evaluate the situation.

It is difficult to know the undersupply of seed required countrywide for an optimum planting season, given the lack of evaluations, but it could be as much as 50 percent, said Maguette Ndiaye, emergency coordinator at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

CRS ran several large seed fairs in Mopti Region in the run-up to planting. They gave farmers vouchers to exchange for seeds in the market and found an “enormous demand”, said CRS head Timothy Bishop, which was perhaps evidence of the extent of the shortage.

Critics say donors should have done more to foresee projected shortages and distribute seeds early. The European Union has not done enough, said one NGO; another said FAO did not present the needs in enough detail, but noted that FAO is severely underfunded this year.

Ndiaye said FAO has just US$4 million of the $10 million it needs to help Mali’s agriculture, fishing and livestock sectors, while its regional head, José Luis Fernandez, has stressed the severe shortage of funds for agricultural and livestock programmes throughout the Sahel.

Donor pull-out

Agriculture Minister Moussa Sidibé says donors have put funding and projects on hold because of the political situation, which has hit the agricultural sector hard and will inevitably impact this year’s harvest. “The donor pullout has severely affected us,” Sidibé told IRIN. “Up to 190 billion CFA [$355,822] worth of projects has been stopped… donors should not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he told IRIN.

Dozens of agriculture programmes have been affected, including seed fairs, micro-finance for farmers, access to credit for fertilizers and seeds, training programmes, and assistance with rainfall monitoring and new seed varieties, among others.

A USAID-funded programme for CRS, which helps 47,000 farmers across Mopti, Gao and Douentza with micro-finance loans to purchase seed and fertilizers, and create a value chain for their products, has been stopped, said Chery Traoré.

“Without donor aid it’s unclear if the government will even be able to assess the harvest this year,” Gaoussou Traoré, head of programmes in the accelerated growth team at USAID, told IRIN.

On top of this, farmers face countrywide fertilizer shortages as suppliers have been reluctant to sell on credit because loans from last year were not sufficiently repaid, said Mary Diallo, coordinator of the government’s early warning system – Système d’Alerte Precoce (SAP).

In most years, the agriculture ministry subsidizes fertilizer prices in some areas, but funding shortages and insecurity in the north have stopped it from doing so extensively this year, said Sidibé. The ministry and German aid agency GTZ, which funds agricultural associations directly, are working with other agriculture donors to see if they can start doing the same.

FAO’s Ndiaye stressed that although severe shortages remain, agencies have been doing what they can – FAO provided seeds to 3,000 farmers in Kayes, the agricultural region in western Mali; it distributed rice seeds in the north through Handicap International and other NGOs, and helped rice farmers by irrigating their fields.

Source: IRIN


Posted by on August 20, 2012 in ECOWAS, General


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Female entrepreneurs critical in emerging Africa seed value chain.


Female entrepreneurs are critical in the emerging African seed value chain, from farmer-growers, to dealers, distributors, agri-input providers, lenders, breeders and seed company staff, including executives.

This initiative is funded by Spain and supported by ECOWAS. African Seed Networks welcomes this initiative, and hopes that it will support the many new businesswomen in Africa.

Originally posted on Database of Press Releases related to Africa - APO-Source:





ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, July 16, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ — ECOWAS and NEPAD have signed an agreement worth one million Euro for the empowerment of Africa’s rural women entrepreneurs.


The accord for the grant provided by the Kingdom of Spain through the NEPAD-Spain Fund was initialled on Thursday, 12th July 2012 at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Ambassador Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, and the Executive Secretary of the NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency, Dr.Ibrahim Assane Mayaki.


The grant will provide funds for the Business Incubator for African Women Entrepreneurs (BIAWE) project, which nurtures the business ventures of rural African women operating primarily in the area of agriculture.


The project seeks to support initiatives in economic capacity building for women, promote rural entrepreneurship and develop…

View original 282 more words

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 16, 2012 in ECOWAS, General


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Seed security essential for emerging from drought and conflict



Aid agencies and the FAO work to consider seed security in the Horn of Africa. A reliable and sustainable supply of seed from budding entrepreneurs connected with consistent supplies of locally tested seeds is essential.


Originally posted on Database of Press Releases related to Africa - APO-Source:





KHARTOUM, Sudan, July 4, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ — A new study by FAO has found that the seed security situation at household level in Darfur is normal with a level of vulnerability particularly among internally displaced persons, returnees and woman-headed households.

Seed security is defined as ready access by rural households, particularly farmers and farming communities, to adequate quantities of quality seed and planting materials of crop varieties, adapted to their agro-ecological conditions and socioeconomic needs, at planting time, under normal and abnormal weather conditions.

FAO Sudan has launched the results of its Seed Systems Security Assessment (SSSA) for Darfur that was conducted in collaboration with the Government of Sudan and funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO). The assessment was conducted across Darfur in 2011, based on household surveys and information provided by seed vendors, agro-input dealers…

View original 308 more words

1 Comment

Posted by on August 16, 2012 in General


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

African mobile phones an asset for farmer knowledge and input supply

From our friends at

Research institutes and Seed companies have already started to use these mobile phone networks for improved knowledge, cash and market flows.

Africa's Mobile Phone market |

1 Comment

Posted by on August 15, 2012 in General


Tags: , , , , ,

Next Post


Great opinion piece by Märianne Banziger, DDG for Research and Partnerships at CIMMYT, a CGIAR Consortium center.

Many African countries have recently harvested maize – or are preparing to do so. They may avoid the full impact of high prices for months. Once their local production is consumed, these countries must rely on maize from international markets where there is no escape from high prices.”

Key Point:

  “There are many developing countries where productivity could be increased to reduce overreliance on imports and benefit rural poor and development in those countries at large. The potential for improvement is enormous”……a reliable supply of locally tested and produced high quality seed is essential to achieve this. We are working with many African seed companies and entrepreneurs to improve their production and access to genetics and skills. 

  “Individual countries must increase investment in agriculture. Agriculture remains one of the best uses of development money. Africa has invested in developing drought-tolerant maize and improving the productivity of maize-legume cropping systems”.

Holistic approaches must be used and all the tools at our disposal including both new and traditional approaches, new and older technologies, improved agronomy and extension, solving cash flows and markets to provide better access to inputs and knowledge. In terms of ‘bang for the buck’ we believe improved seed access ranks among the highest.

  “The goal is not simply to avoid another food crisis responsibly and efficiently grow enough food to feed the planet”

  “We have the means to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in spite of climate change and rising demand, but we need political will and investment”

African Seed Network agrees !

Related articles

Originally posted on Agricultura e Segurança alimentar:

How to avoid another food crisis – AlertNet.

Climate Conversations – How to avoid another food crisis

By Marianne Bänziger | Wednesday at 2:17 PM | Comments ( 3 )

A farmer harvests wheat on Miet Radie farm at El-Kalubia governorate, about 60 km (37 miles) northeast of Cairo, on May 8, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A farmer harvests wheat on Miet Radie farm at El-Kalubia governorate, about 60 km (37 miles) northeast of Cairo, on May 8, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

By Marianne Bänziger

The United States is currently in the midst of a severe drought, its worst in 50 years. Half of all U.S. counties have been declared disaster areas. In response, the international prices of maize and soybeans have risen past 2007-08 peaks, when they fueled food riots in more than 30 countries.

There have not been food riots but the world remains in a tenuous position. Another shock to the global food system could spark another food crisis. Here are four things to watch:


The demand for maize has risen…

View original 942 more words


Posted by on August 15, 2012 in General


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Working together to better manage CGIAR intellectual assets


The CGIAR is the curator of much of the world’s crop genetic biodiversity. However access by small seed and medium seed companies has been difficult in the past, having to source foundation seed from unreliable public  breeding and foundation seed sources, which ultimately source it from the CGIAR. Much of the seed remained unused in seed-banks and research labs. However newly approved CGIAR Intellectual Asset principles give new opportunities for improved flow of genetics,  and partnerships, including with African seed companies to solve some of the most challenging crop problems, while at the same time maintaining the international public good and preserving biodiversity.

Originally posted on CLIPnet:

Participants of the CGIAR Consortium Legal/IP Network meeting held at ICRISAT-Patancheru, India. (Photo credit: ICRISAT/PS Rao)

Throughout CGIAR, the management of Intellectual Assets requires a careful balancing act of sometimes seemingly opposite objectives.  How does one find the correct balance between say maximizing global accessibility v. minimizing risk of misappropriation/misuse? Or, maintaining commitment to International Public Goods v. leveraging strengths of private sector partners?

These complex issues are the kinds of challenges tackled by the CGIAR Consortium Legal & Intellectual Property Network (or CLIPnet for short); a multi-disciplinary group from the members of the CGIAR Consortium comprising of lawyers, grant managers, and senior managers from genetic resources, communications and corporate services.  Last month the group met for their Annual Meeting, this year hosted by ICRISAT.  Over the 3-day meeting members of the group swapped ideas, experiences and practical advice on a range of issues such as; challenges of…

View original 199 more words


Posted by on August 13, 2012 in General


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Major investment to persuade bacteria to help cereals self-fertilise | The John Innes Centre


English: John Innes Centre, Norwich

English: John Innes Centre, Norwich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The John Innes Centre will lead a $9.8m research project to investigate whether it is possible to initiate a symbiosis between cereal crops and bacteria. The symbiosis could help cereals access nitrogen from the air to improve yields. The five-year research project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, could have most immediate benefit for subsistence farmers.

As a result, yields are 15 to 20 per cent of their potential. Nitrogen fertilisers also come with an environmental cost. Making and applying them contributes half the carbon footprint of agriculture and causes environmental pollution.

“A new method of nitrogen fertilisation is needed for the African Green Revolution,” said Professor Oldroyd.

“Delivering new technology within the seed of crops has many benefits for farmers as well as the environment, such as self-reliance and equity,” said Professor Oldroyd.

The new research will investigate the possibility of engineering cereals to associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and of delivering this technology through the seed. If it is found to work, farmers would be able to share the technology by sharing seed. And the research opens the door to the use of grasses as rotational crops to enhance soil nitrogen.

“We’re excited about the long-term potential of this research to transform the lives of small farmers who depend on agriculture for their food and livelihoods,” said Katherine Kahn, senior program officer of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We need innovation for farmers to increase their productivity in a sustainable way so that they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty.  Improving access to nitrogen could dramatically boost the crop yields of farmers in Africa.”

The focus of the investigation will be maize, the most important staple crop for small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Parallel studies in the wild grass Setaria viridis, which has a smaller genome and shorter life cycle, will speed up the rate of discovery. Discoveries will be applicable to all cereal crops including wheat, barley and rice.

The research will start by attempting to engineer in maize the ability to sense nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria. This may be enough to activate a symbiosis that provides some fixed nitrogen. Even slight increases could improve yields for farmers who do not have access to fertilisers.

“We have developed a pretty good understanding of how legumes such as peas and beans evolved the ability to recruit soil bacteria to access the nitrogen they need,” said Professor Oldroyd. ”Even the most primitive symbiotic relationship with bacteria benefited the plant, and this is where we hope to start in cereals.”

In the most basic symbiosis, bacteria are housed in simple swellings on the root of the plant, providing the low oxygen environment needed. In more highly evolved legumes, the plant produces a specialised organ, the nodule, to house bacteria.

Bacteria can infect the plant through cracks or through more complex tunnels built by the plant called infection threads. As the complexity of the interaction increases, so does the efficiency with which bacteria fix nitrogen for the plant.

“In the long term, we anticipate that the research will follow the evolutionary path, building up the level of complexity and improving the benefits to the plant,” said Professor Oldroyd.

The project will also help highlight where more research is needed. It will run in parallel to ongoing research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council into how nitrogen fixation works in legumes. It will also run in parallel to an existing Gates-funded project, N2Africa, to improve nitrogen management in African farming systems more immediately.

About the John Innes Centre:

The John Innes Centre,, is a world-leading research centre based on the Norwich Research Park The JIC’s mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, and to apply its knowledge to benefit agriculture, human health and well-being, and the environment. JIC delivers world class bioscience outcomes leading to wealth and job creation, and generating high returns for the UK economy. JIC  is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


1 Comment

Posted by on August 12, 2012 in General


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,049 other followers

%d bloggers like this: