Expert Opinion on Cassava Improvement in Africa through Genome Editing

Dr. Ihuoma Okwuonu, Plant Biotechnologist and Chief Research Scientist at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Umudike, Nigeria said:

“We are using genome editing for increased understanding of the role of sweet gene in cassava Bacterial Blight Disease (BBD). One of the reasons why we are improving cassava is because of the impact of the disease. The important part about this disease is that we do not understand the trend. We do not know what happens. The causative agent for BBD is xanthomonas axonopodis PV, manihotis (Xam).

“The bacteria attaches itself to a plant cell. This bacteria releases its own ammunition in form of proteins that goes inside the cassava cell and induces, forcing the cassava to produce sugar. This sugar helps the bacteria to grow fast, colonise the plant and cause disease. The gene making cassava prone to the disease is what is called susceptibility gene.

If we could identify this gene, and use genome editing tool to remove it, because our previous studies have really shown that susceptibility gene is not doing so much for cassava growth. We can kind of cut, remove or manipulate it to see.If that happens, the bacteria will be disarmed.Our goal is to cut off the portion of that gene that enables the bacteria to multiply and grow.

Our second goal is to use the genome editing tool to develop a disease monitoring tool. We could use this tool to develop a disease model that can help us understand the progression of this disease in cassava.

So far, we can comfortably use this genome editing tool CRISPR Cas9 to make any intended change. We can also include any signal that we want to attach to help us study whatever effect we want to study in cassava. I want to say that this is really a way forward for cassava improvement because it means that there are a lot of possibilities. Things that were initially not possible with conventional breeding or genetic engineering can be done using genome editing.”

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