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UC Davis, BGI, Life Tech Join African Crop Consortium

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A new $40 million effort conducted by partners at The University of California, Davis, Life Technologies, and China's BGI will conduct genome sequencing and plant breeding research focused on important crops in Africa.

The consortium members so far have raised $7.5 million to fund the project, and are now seeking an additional $32.5 million by appealing to partners in the Clinton Global Initiative.

The African Orphan Crops consortium will work with the African Plant Breeding Academy in Ghana, which is expected to be established in 2012, to study plants and trees that are important commercially in Africa but which have been neglected by the latest science. Life Tech will provide the academy, which is being started by UC Davis, with the research tools for the project.

"Due to the diverse nature of the crops grown in Africa, including cassava, cacao, cocyam, millet, sorghum and legumes, there is a need to adapt the latest breeding strategies and develop new strategies that are appropriate for these crops," Kent Bradford, director of UC Davis' Seed Biotechnology Center, said in a statement yesterday.

The partners have drafted a list of 96 species that it will now whittle down to 24 plants that will have their genomes sequenced by BGI. These species should have a nutritionally significant role in the African diet and could be used to improve food security on the continent. Among the species considered for sequencing so far include amaranth, African potato, acacia, baobob, Cape tomato, Ethiopian mustard, matoke bananas, and others.

The consortium will use each plant's genome sequence data to develop new varieties of crops that are more nutritious, produce higher yields, and are more tolerant of environmental stresses like droughts.

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