Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports cassava research in Brunswick (Germany)

Since 2014 the cassava research of the Department of Plant Viruses of the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH in Brunswick has been funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In December 2018 the Senior Program Officer of the Foundation, Dr. Jim Lorenzen, visited the DSMZ plant virus research group, led by Dr. Stephan Winter, in Brunswick (Germany). As part of a project funded by the Gates Foundation with about 900,000 Euro, the researchers succeeded in finding resistances to African viruses in cassava varieties from South America. The viruses trigger a severe root rot, the Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), which leads to complete crop loss. So far, African cassava varieties have little resistance to these viruses, often leading to catastrophic crop failures. „As the disease continues to spread from East Africa to Central and West Africa and threatens the growing in these regions, there is an urgent need to take countermeasures,“ explains Doctor Winter. After extensive trials in the Brunswick research greenhouses, the resistant cassava plants from South America were sent to research stations in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria to cross virus resistance in African varieties. Experiments in South Kivu in Eastern Congo, which were evaluated after one year of field cultivation, proved that virus resistance in South American varieties is maintained in the field.

South American cassava plants as a solution for Africa
„The selected variants grow in Africa, retain their viral resistance to CBSD and remain healthy,“ says Dr. Stephan Winter, the world’s leading cassava virus researcher. In Brunswick, Dr. Jim Lorenzen and Dr. Stephan Winter discussed other research projects that, in addition to basic research on the resistance characterization of South American breeding lines, would primarily involve them directly in the breeding work of African partners. This would to make the new research results concretely applicable in Africa in the fight against hunger. „After twelve months of field cultivation, the South American cassava seedlings show excellent resistance characteristics. However, there is still a need for research when it comes to establishing the plants in different growing regions, but the first steps towards resistant cassava plants in Africa have been taken,“ Dr. Winter summarises the current situation.

Cassava as a food plant
Cassava, also known as manioc, is mainly known in this country as tapioca, the starch extracted from the manioc root. It is the most important food plant in sub-Saharan Africa and often the only daily meal for the poor. Cassava cultivation is repeatedly threatened by viral diseases. For some years now, a viral disease has been spreading from the coastal regions of East Africa. It is caused by novel Cassava Brown Streak viruses and destroys the root. The plants perish, the tuber harvest fails and threatening bottlenecks in food supplies repeatedly occur in African countries, especially in Uganda and Tanzania. The further spread of the disease, especially westward, represents an enormous threat potential for the people of countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, where cassava is of outstanding importance in agricultural production and nutrition. Since Dr. Winter became head of the DSMZ Department of Plant Viruses in 1995, viruses of tropical and subtropical plants have been an important field of research in Brunswick. The research team of the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH aims at the rapid detection of viral diseases in plants in order to effectively combat epidemics and to explore ways of effectively controlling viral diseases.

Das Leibniz-Institut DSMZ – Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen ist die weltweit vielfältigste Sammlung für biologischen Ressourcen (Bakterien, Archaea, Protisten, Hefen, Pilze, Bakteriophagen, Pflanzenviren, genomische bakterielle DNA sowie menschliche und tierische Zellkulturen). An der DSMZ werden Mikroorganismen sowie Zellkulturen gesammelt, erforscht und archiviert. Als Einrichtung der Leibniz-Gemeinschaft ist die DSMZ mit ihren umfangreichen wissenschaftlichen Services und biologischen Ressourcen seit 1969 globaler Partner für Forschung, Wissenschaft und Industrie. Die DSMZ ist die erste registrierte Sammlung Europas (Verordnung (EU) Nr. 511/2014) und nach Qualitätsstandard ISO 9001:2015 zertifiziert. Als Patenthinterlegungsstelle bietet sie die bundesweit einzige Möglichkeit, biologisches Material nach den Anforderungen des Budapester Vertrags zu hinterlegen. Neben dem wissenschaftlichen Service bildet die Forschung das zweite Standbein der DSMZ. Das Institut mit Sitz auf dem Science Campus Braunschweig-Süd beherbergt mehr als 66.500 Kulturen sowie Biomaterialien und hat 198 Mitarbeiter.

Leibnitz-Institut DSMZ Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen
Sven-David Müller
Inhoffenstraße 7 B
38124 Braunschweig
Phone: 0531-5312616300