Researchers working to create a virus-resistant variety of cassava, the starchy root vegetable that millions of people throughout the world depend on as a dietary staple, got a shot in the arm this week—to the tune of almost $12 million. The cash infusion is bound for the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project and is coming from a trio of philanthropic organizations: about $5.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; another $5.5 million from The Monsanto Fund; and a little more than $850,000 from the Howard Buffett Foundation. VIRCA, which is also funded by about $2.5 in US taxpayer money, aims to develop two new varieties of cassava resistant to the viruses that cause cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and cassava mosaic disease (CMD), two ailments that are decimating whole cultivars of the vegetable in places like Uganda and Kenya.
"I have witnessed the devastation caused by CMD and CBSD, wiping out entire harvests, leaving many people on the verge of starvation," Claude Fauquet, lead researcher on the VIRCA project and director of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center's International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology, said in a statement. "Our team is confident that the cassava we develop will improve the lives of millions of people allowing them to not only grow adequate food, but also to increase productivity so they might have enough money left over to educate their children and afford good medical care for malaria and other diseases they face.”
The $12 million funding boost will go towards phase II of the project, which uses siRNA and other tools to integrate virus resistance genes into the genomes of cassava varieties preferred by farmers in the region.