Travels with my grant

29 April 2017 - By: Katie Tomlinson

Travels with my grant - Katie Tomlinson

Katie Tomlinson

Katie Tomlinson  (University of Bristol, UK)

Travelled to: Research field trip to investigate cassava viral infection, Kampala, Uganda


Cassava plants produce carbohydrate rich root tubers and are a staple food crop for approximately 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, cassava is prone to viral infections, including cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), which can render entire tubers inedible. CBSD outbreaks are currently impacting on the food security of millions of cassava farmers in East Africa and it appears to be spreading westward, threatening food security in many countries. 

Working in the lab at the University of Bristol, I regularly infect plants with CBSD viruses to study how they replicate, move and cause symptoms. However, in the field there is a much more complex interplay of different viral strains, cassava varieties, white fly population dynamics and environmental conditions, which all contribute towards the disease. To find out more about how CBSD works in real life, I decided to visit Uganda where the disease is having a devastating impact. I was based at the National Crops Resources Research Institute, which is in the centre of a region with cassava plantations heavily infected with CBSD. During my three-month visit I took part in many activities which have provided me with invaluable insights into CBSD, control methods and impacts on farmers. I went on field trips to collect data for the 5CP project, which involves scoring different cassava varieties for CBSD symptoms across different agro-ecological zones. Findings from the 5CP project will help farmers to decide which cassava varieties offer the most protection against CBSD in their local areas. 

I also assisted with the NEXTGEN breeding programme, which applies genetic techniques to conventional breeding and aims to produce new varieties with CBSD resistance. In addition to field work, I also wrote a blog about my experiences for the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol. These posts helped to communicate the importance of CBSD and the different activities being used to combat the disease. The posts have had over 1200 visits and have generated interesting discussions on Twitter.

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Category: Plant Biology