Real time portable genome sequencing for global food security

Portable DNA sequencing technology has great potential to reduce the risk of community crop failure and help improve livelihoods of millions of people, especially in low resourced communities. Crop losses due to viral diseases and pests are major constraints on food security and income for millions of households in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Such losses can be reduced if plant diseases and pests are correctly diagnosed and identified early. Currently, accurate diagnosis for definitive identification of plant viruses and their vectors in SSA mostly relies on standard PCR and next generation sequencing technologies (NGS). However, it can take up to 6 months before results generated using these approaches are available. The long-time taken to detect or identify viruses impedes quick within-season decision making necessary for early action, crop protection advise and disease control measures by farmers. This compounds the magnitude of crop losses and food shortages suffered by farmers. For the first time globally, the MinION portable pocket DNA sequencer was used to sequence whole plant virus genomes. In this talk I will outline how we have used the Oxford Nanopore technology to identify the begomoviruses causing the devastating cassava mosaic disease, which is ravaging smallholder farmers’ crops in sub-Saharan Africa leaving millions food insecure.

Laura Boykin

Dr. Laura M. Boykin

The Cassava Virus Action Project

Dr. Laura Boykin is a TED Senior Fellow (2017), Gifted Citizen (2017) and a computational biologist who uses genomics and supercomputing to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa control whiteflies, which have caused devastation of local cassava crops. Her lab at The University of Western Australia uses genetic data to understand the virus and whitefly’s evolution. Boykin also works to equip African scientists with a greater knowledge of genomics and high-performance computing skills to tackle future insect outbreaks. Boykin completed her PhD in Biology at the University of New Mexico while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics group and is currently a Senior Research Fellow at University of Western Australia. She was invited to present her lab’s research on whiteflies at the United Nations Solution Summit in New York City for the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals to end extreme poverty by 2030. The team’s latest work to bring portable DNA sequencing to east African farmers has been featured on CNN, BBC World News, BBC Swahili, BBC Technology News, and the TED Fellows Ideas Blog. For more information: www.lauraboykinresearch.com or www.cassavavirusactionproject.com.

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