News / Bristol

Major Bristol University project will tackle devastating plant diseases in Africa

By kati harris, Saturday Oct 7, 2017

The University of Bristol has been awarded £2m to lead a major new project aiming to tackle the devastation caused by vector-borne plant diseases in Africa.

These destructive diseases are transmitted by aphids, beetles, whitefly and other insects which move amongst vegetation, causing significant problems for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, who rely on growing crops to feed their families.

The plant viruses impact heavily on the production of staple and cash crops such as cassava, sweet potato, maize and yam, which in turn leads to food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty.

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“All of which hinder economic and social development” explains project director, professor Gary Foster.

“The emergence of new viral diseases and the environmental fluctuations of climate change, together with resource limitation and population growth will also acutely impact this region of the world,” he continued.

Cassava leaf showing symptoms of cassava mosaic disease in Tanzania

The funding will be used to build a sustainable network of scientists and researchers to address the challenges of vector-borne plant viruses in Africa.

Professor Foster and his team from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences have long been recognised as world-leading in the area of plant virology and vector-transmitted diseases, with particular interest in food security.

Almost £1m of the £2m grant is going into pump prime funding for a wide range of research projects, meetings, workshops, seminars and networking events.

These will take place in both the UK and Africa, with the aim of promoting interdisciplinary working and strengthening international research methodologies in plant virus vector research.

The Vector-borne Disease Network grant is funded by the UK government Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) which supports research on global issues that affect developing countries.

Healthy cassava leaf

“Until now, much of the work in this area has been relatively un-coordinated. Our GCRF network CONNECTED seeks to provide leadership, bringing together academic and industry partners with funders to map the research landscape, identify research gaps and facilitate the formation of new interdisciplinary collaborations.” said project co-director, Dr Neil Boonham, from Newcastle University.

The CONNECTED project has a multidisciplinary management board, chaired by the UK’s Chief Plant Health officer, professor Nicola Spence, and comprises UK and Africa-based experts in vector-borne plant disease, sustainability, social and environmental science, and agricultural impact.

“This breadth of expertise enables the management board to establish cutting edge research projects together with practical advice for farmers, plant health certification schemes and policy initiatives in Africa,” said professor Foster.

“From the outset, the management board will engage with established networks, stakeholders and funders in Africa to define research targets.”

Whitefly on leaf


Read more: ‘A new era for health research and education at Bristol University’


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