Gene Editing: Viable Tool For Cassava Improvement – Okwuonu

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A scientist, Dr Ihuoma Okwuonu, has identified gene editing as a viable innovative tool that holds great prospect for improving the micronutrient deficiency of cassava.

Speaking at a virtual press briefing today (April 28, 2021) on how Africa is using genome editing for crop improvement and biofortification, Okwuonu a chief research scientist at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, said the innovative tool could be deployed to improve the micronutrient deficiency of cassava by including essential nutrients in the crop, removing the bottlenecks that come with breeding cassava and reducing the breeding period for new varieties.

She noted that there are a lot of factors that affect cassava production, including the impact of diseases and pests such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, pointing out that these affect the vegetative part of the crop as well as root production thereby making it difficult for farmers to earn their living from cultivating cassava and also diminishing the food source that people depend on for cassava.

The plant biotechnologist, who described gene editing as rewriting the genetic information of living organisms to create new abilities, correct abnormalities and improve performance, said the tool provided a way forward for cassava improvement because it presented a lot of possibilities not possible with conventional breeding.

“One of the reasons we are improving cassava is because of the impact of diseases and one of such is the Cassava Bacterial Blight (CBB) disease. With genome editing we are trying to get the understanding of diseases like CBB and how it can be stopped. To identify the gene and use gene editing to remove the susceptibility gene in cassava disarm CBB in cassava.

“Our second goal is to use gene editing to develop disease monitoring tool to monitor disease progression and stop it. We can use gene editing to make deletion or change in cassava or include/ attach any signal to help us study any effect in cassava,” she added.

She further encouraged policy makers to understand the importance and benefit of this technology and provide a conducive environment for its effective use and also provide funding for effective research in this area.

In her remarks, the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Nigeria chapter coordinator, Dr Rose Gidado, said Nigeria has so many biotic stresses and attendant problems in the agriculture sector like drought, fall army worm, flood disaster and oil spillage, adding highly innovative technologies can help the nation address these issues.

Similarly, the director of biotechnology and product development department, NRCRI, Umudike, Dr. Chiedozie Egesi, said Africa has come a long way and is now practising the use of advance technology to improve crop and animal productivity.

“There is a lot of power in science and technology and we should not shy away from using it to improve the lives, income and generating ability of Africans, small holder African farmers,” he added.

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