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Cambridge scientists join major international push to maximise bioscience research that helps world's poorest farmers

last modified Nov 29, 2012 12:35 PM
Researchers in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge have been awarded two grants geared towards managing crop disease from the BBSRC-led programme called 'Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development' (SCPRID).

Bean common mosaic virus
Bean common mosaic virus (BCMV) is a potyvirus that induces mosaic symptoms in bean plants (left panel) and decreases yield. Some varieties of bean are resistant to BCMV but ironically this makes them sensitive to systemic necrosis and death if they become infected with another potyvirus, bean common mosaic necrotic virus (BCMNV: middle panel). BCMNV is endemic to Africa, making deployment of resistant varieties problematic. Both viruses are vectored by aphids (right panel shows: Aphis fabae, the black bean aphid). Image credits: Drs. Mathew Abang and Valentine Aritua (CIAT, Uganda). New approaches to controlling these viruses and the aphids that transport them are particularly important in East and Central Africa. This is because beans provide 45-65% of dietary protein for >50 million resource poor rural and urban consumers in the region. Additionally, the crop is a major source of dietary iron for a population in which anaemia affects 65% children under 5, and 34% of women. Image Credit: CIAT
Dr Julian Hibberd's £1.4m programme, "Wild rice MAGIC" aims to increase drought tolerance and tolerance to bacterial and viral infections in domesticated rice using naturally existing variation in wild rice species. Compared to wild varieties, modern crops have less variation in their genome due to the artificial selection of certain traits which has occurred over thousands of years. The team will use high-throughput sequencing to provide information about how the genomes have mixed and how they interact, and then identify those genes that confer ability to resist environmental stresses, such as drought.

Working with an international team of researchers from the Philippines, India and Tanzania will then spend the next five years mixing alleles from six wild rices with two cultivated varieties. If successful, seeds of the new, hardier rices will be supplied to local farmers to start harvesting.


A further project led by John Carr, Chris Gilligan and David Baulcombe ‘Modelling and manipulation of plant-aphid interactions: A new avenue for sustainable disease management of an important crop in Africa’ aims to understand how changes in plant biochemistry caused by virus infection alter the behaviour of aphids (insects that transmit viruses between plants) and to see how this knowledge could be used to better protect crop plants against these insects and the viruses they transmit. In this £2m project the main focus is on bean and its viruses and the work will be carried out in collaboration with colleagues at Rothamsted and in Kenya and Uganda.

More information on both projects can be found at: and