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Cassava's Turn

By knowing the genome of a food crop, researchers can home in the genes related to certain desirable traits, writes Bill Gates at his GatesNotes blog. Gates recently visited Ed Buckler's lab at Cornell University where Buckler is studying crops like corn, cassava, grape, and more to understand genetic variation and model it.

"Once you have that model, you no longer need to cross two plants and just hope for the best. You can ask the computer, 'Out of all the plants I have in my field, which two should I breed in order to produce one that is pest-resistant?'" Gates writes. "Think of it as a highly sophisticated for plants."

This, he notes, will cut down on the time it takes to breed a plant that is, for instance, naturally resistance to a pest.

This has largely been done for corn, and now it's cassava's turn, Gates says, noting that cassava is a staple crop in many tropical areas and is "is responsible for the fun factor in bubble tea."

At Dot Earth, Andrew Revkin adds that "[i]t's great to see scientists finding ways to do leading-edge research that has real-world applicability in this turbulent but promising century."