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Getting ready to go… cassava virus hunting!

Katherine Tomlinson from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol Cabot Institute, is spending three months in Uganda looking at the cassava brown streak virus. This virus dramatically reduces available food for local people and Katherine will be finding out how research on this plant is translating between the lab and the field.  Follow this blog series for regular updates.

It’s just three days until I set off on my trip to Uganda, where I’ll complete an internship with the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Namulonge. I’ll be working for three months with their Communications team to learn how research is translated between the lab and the field.  I am currently a BBSRC South West DTP PhD student at the University of Bristol, researching how cassava brown streak disease viruses spoil cassava tubers and dramatically reduce available food for local people.

Image above shows Katherine inspecting cassava plants for cassava brown streak disease symptoms in the School of Biological Sciences GroDome.
Cassava plants produce carbohydrate rich root tubers and are a staple food crop for approximately 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. After rice and maize, cassava is the third most important source of carbohydrates in the tropics. Unfortunately, cassava is prone to viral infections, including cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), which can render entire tubers inedible. CBSD outbreaks are currently impacting on the food security of millions of cassava farmers in east Africa; it appears to be spreading westward, threatening food security in many countries.

Spoiled cassava tubers due to cassava brown streak disease (photo credit: Dr. E. Kanju, IITA).
Working the lab, I regularly infect plants with CBSD viruses to study how they replicate, move and prevent plant defence responses. However, in the field there is a much more complex interplay of different viral strains, cassava varieties, white fly population dynamics and environmental conditions which all contribute towards the disease. It’s vitally important that information about all of these contributory factors is shared between scientists and farmers to help control the disease and inform future research.

I’m looking forward to assisting with field trials where different cassava varieties are being tested for resistance and meeting the farmers who face the challenges of controlling the disease. I hope to learn how information is shared and distributed and get some research ideas for when I return. I’ll be blogging my experiences on my personal blog and for the Cabot Institute blog.

NaCRRI is in Namulonge, in the Wakiso district of Uganda (photo credit: Slomox, Wikimedia).

Preparation, preparation, preparation…


At the moment, there are a lot of ‘to do’s; making sure I’ve had all the necessary vaccinations, packed factor 50 sun cream, mosquito net, DET and a massive first aid kit! It seems a little over the top at the moment but should stand me in good stead for the adventure ahead…

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This blog has been written by University of Bristol Cabot Institute member Katie Tomlinson from the School of Biological Sciences.  Katie's area of research is to generate and exploit an improved understanding of cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) to ensure sustainable cassava production in Africa.  This blog has been reposted with kind permission from Katie's blog Cassava Virus

Katie Tomlinson
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