Cassava breeders benefit from SNP workshop

November 2009

The ACGT recently hosted an international workshop at the University of Pretoria (UP) aimed at sharing knowledge on the use of molecular tools for cassava breeding – in particular, SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) Marker Technology. The workshop, which was held from 9 – 12 November 2009, was attended by cassava breeders from a range of African countries – including Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Uganda – as well as from Brazil.

Organised as part of the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) Cassava Project, the workshop introduced participants to DNA variation and SNP Marker Technology and its applications. Also included as part of the programme was a demonstration of the recently installed Illumina BeadXpress platform at UP.

Cassava is an important root crop in unfavourable environments in poor areas of developing countries and is of both industrial and commercial significance. The crop is often cultivated in dry areas as well as being susceptible to certain devastating pests and diseases such as Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). As such, there is a great need for research towards improvement of drought tolerance and the combating of disease in cassava.

In keeping with the aims of the GCP Cassava Project, the SNP workshop sought to create a platform for cassava breeders learn about the progress and latest developments in molecular tools and the opportunities that exist for their application in the breeding process.

According to Emmanuel Okogbenin of the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Nigeria, the rapid evolution of the genomics of cassava makes it vital for breeders to constantly be aware of the opportunities that are available to them to improve their work. “The workshop has provided a good networking platform. Working together as a community, we will be able to improve access to facilities and the tools needed to enhance speed and efficiency in the breeding process”, he said.

Anthony Pariyo from Uganda – where cassava is the second most important crop after bananas – believes access to cutting-edge technologies like SNP has the potential to revolutionise cassava breeding in his country over the next 20 years. “Previous methods relied solely on the phenotype. Being unable to see what was happening on the inside of the plant made it difficult to keep up with the fast evolution of diseases. From this workshop we have learned about the genotyping and marker support services that are available through GCP. These will help us to move our materials faster and greatly improve efficiency”, said Pariyo.

Applied Biotechnologist, Jedidah Danson from the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), represented the University of KwaZulu-Natal – where ACCI is running a PhD programme on conventional breeding. According to her, SNP technology adds great value in terms of the volume and quality of data produced. “This technique generates the kind of data that will not only be applicable but invaluable to our students”, she added.