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BGI, CIAT Leading International Cassava Genomics Project

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – BGI said today that it will work with Colombia's International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to sequence 5,000 cassava genotypes in a project that will aid scientists as they improve the crop through genetic engineering.

BGI said that full sequencing of wild and domesticated cassava, which is produced in Africa and Asia, as well as the Americas, will enhance breeding efforts by revealing the genetic story of the crop's evolution and distribution.

By discovering the genomic regions and individual genes that were involved in cassava domestication, the project should enable scientists to engineer the crop for new markets and new modes of production, and to prepare it for climate changes.

The first draft of the cassava genome was produced by 454 Life Sciences and the Joint Genome Institute in 2009, but that draft remains highly fragmented. CIAT plans to use Illumina paired-end sequencing to join some of those scaffolds, while the University of Arizona is sequencing selected genotypes. The Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences will sequence four more genotypes, BGI said.

"Genetically improved cultivars are the key output of cassava breeding research. The rapid advance of genomics, especially large-scale genome resequencing technology, will accelerate the improvement of cassava yield, quality, and resistance to pests and diseases," BGI Life Science Division Director Gengyun Zhang said in a statement.

Three central areas of interest for researchers studying cassava genomics include evolutionary and phylogenetic studies, understanding of the crop's basic genetics, and development of new breeding tools.

BGI also said it expects the project will stimulate projects between molecular biologists, genebank curators, plant breeders, pathologists, entomologists, and researchers in other areas.