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Food security now: Using upstream science to help smallholder farmers in East Africa

Dr. Laura M. Boykin

Senior Research Fellow and Senior TED Fellow, School of Molecular Sciences & Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, The University of Western Australia

Food Security Now: using upstream science to help smallholder farmers in East Africa

Approximately 800 million people rely on cassava globally, either as a source of food or a source of income. Cassava is being devastated by two viruses, both transmitted by the whitefly: Cassava mosaic disease and Cassava brown streak disease.

The Cassava Virus Action Project is a network of researchers, farmers and collaborators using genomic technologies to improve the management of these Cassava viruses. For example, if you can analyse the DNA of the virus, quickly and close to the crop, you could understand what virus it is and decide what action to take. Dr. Boykin's team has empowered local communities to take decisions that maximise their crops while also minimising the spread of these whitefly-borne viruses.

This means, for the first time, farmers struggling with diseased cassava crops can take immediate, positive action to save their livelihoods based on information about the health of their plants, generated using a portable, real-time DNA analysis device. The team now plans to expand the project; 800 million people worldwide depend on the threatened cassava crop.

Oxford Nanopore’s portable MinION DNA sequencer was used to identify which strain of virus was destroying the cassava crops of farmers in Tanzania and Uganda as part of a collaboration of scientists and farmers, known as the Cassava Virus Action Project (CVAP). As MinION delivers the information in real time (compared to the usual three months), farmers were able to take action much faster. One was advised to destroy the crop and plant a different variety that is more resistant to the virus for example.

In this talk Dr. Boykin will outline how her team is using super-computing, genomics, mobile DNA sequencing technology and teamwork to impact the lives of millions. In addition, she will highlight how the team has successfully implemented an effective science communication strategy to help in the fight to end extreme poverty by 2030.

Dr. Boykin has been involved in the TED Fellows program and also TEDX and The Gifted Citizen programs and will highlight how these networks has enabled her science to reach the masses. The team’s latest work to bring portable DNA sequencing to east African farmers has been featured on CNN, BBC World News, BBC Swahili, BBC Technology News, and the TED Fellows Ideas Blog.

More information on Dr. Boykin

Date Thursday, 15 March 2018
Time 6:10pm - 7:30pm
Audience Public,All University
Event Category Sciences
Event Type Public Lecture
Open Seminar
Special Lecture
DepartmentGenetics Otago, Centre for International Health, Biochemistry, Anthropology and Archaeology, Botany, Zoology, Women's and Children's Health (DSM), Public Health, Preventive and Social Medicine (DSM), Pathology (DSM), Medicine, Medicine (DSM), Māori/Indigenous Health Institute (UOC), Microbiology and Immunology, Food Science, Centre for Science Communication, Information Science
LocationCastle Street Lecture Theatre One
Contact NameAmarni Thomas
Genetics Otago

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