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Cornell to Head $25M Cassava Genome-based Breeding Project

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Cornell University has raked in $25.2 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom to lead an international team using genomic selection to improve cassava productivity, Cornell said on Friday.

As many as 500 million Africans consume cassava each day, and it is considered one of the few subsistence crops that could benefit from climate change, as it can withstand drought and marginal soil and can be stored underground for long periods. But breeding new cassava types is slow-going; it takes nearly a decade to develop and release a new variety, Cornell said.

The international partners in the Cornell-led Next Generation Cassava Breeding project plan to use genome sequencing and analysis to identify genes linked to traits that could be used to improve the breeding process. They hope to shorten the breeding cycle for new cassava down to six years and to give plant breeders more accurate evaluations of the new strains earlier and enable them to evaluate a much larger number of clones without actually planting them in the target environment.

Cornell will host the five-year cassava project, which will include partners at the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda; Nigeria's National Root Crops Research Institute and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in New York; and the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.

"Next Generation Cassava will give breeders in Africa access to the most advanced plant breeding technologies to deliver improved varieties to farmers more rapidly," Peter Kulakow, an IITA cassava breeder and geneticist, said in a statement. "This project will ensure that cassava genetic research is on a par with other top food crops such as wheat, rice, maize, and potato."

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