Monday, April 18, 2016

Cassava genome investigation

Cassava is a root crop that is easy to grow and drought resistant, making it an important food crop in many parts of the world.  It is also a good source of the starch needed to generate ethanol fuel.  However, cassava is vulnerable to plant pathogens, resulting in decreased yields.  In an effort to develop breeding strategies that can improve cassava's disease resistance and increase crop yields, a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the DOE Joint Genome Institute have compared the genomes of different cassava varieties to each other and to related plants including Ceara rubber and castor bean.  They found that cassava currently cultivated in Africa has reduced genetic variation, and that the Ceara rubber had been previously crossed with the cassava plant, leading to "elite" cassava varieties with an increased number of desirable traits, as well as determining genetic relations between cassava varieties.

This article originally caught my attention because of its implications for renewable energy. This plant is especially important because it is a staple crop, so these efforts to increase genetic variation in cassava are encouraging.  Hopefully, knowing the genetic differences between varieties will expedite the process of increasing genetic variation, specifically in areas that would give cassava increased disease resistance.  Perhaps another cross with the Ceara rubber plant could be used, since this cross was successful in the past.

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