Professor Awarded Prestigious BREAD Grant

May 13, 2010

The National Science Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have awarded Professor Brian Staskawicz a BREAD Program grant. Staskawicz is the current chair of the department of plant and microbial biology at the College of Natural Resources. He is one of 15 grantees in the US being funded by the NSF-Gates partnership. He will receive a $1.3M grant to support his project on the bacterial blight disease of cassava.

BREAD is a new five-year program jointly funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The two entities are partnering to support innovative scientific research designed to address key constraints to smallholder agriculture in the developing world.

Bacterial blight disease of cassava (CBB) incited by the pathogen Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. manihotis (Xam) has become a serious threat to cassava production in several developing countries in both Africa and South America.

Currently, bacterial blight of cassava is extremely difficult to control, as it has been very problematic to breed for resistance. The genomic sequencing of naturally occurring strains of Xam will identify conserved effectors proteins that will be employed as molecular probes to identify new sources of resistant germplasm. The development of novel and durable resistant varieties that recognize the PthB effector will have a broad impact on farmers in developing countries as the novel transgenes that Staskawicz’ team propose to construct can be introduced into the many different varieties that are currently being planted. The development of CBB-resistant varieties will have enormous implications for food security in countries in which cassava is a major staple food.

The work of the Staskawicz lab will also train a new generation of scientists to work on developing bacterial blight resistant cassava and provide novel approaches that could be applied to other crops in developing countries.