Exploration of the global diversity of cassava (Manihot esculenta), is underway in Kent

NIAB is hosting Dr Rajneesh Paliwal from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria, at their Kent site, NIAB EMR, to expose the naturally occurring diversity contained within the world’s largest cassava collections (genebanks) and make that information available to breeders and researchers. This analysis will also reveal how the plants within the collections relate to one another and help genebank users (breeders and researchers) to decide which materials they might be interested to work with in scientific studies and/or use as part of breeding programmes.

The cassava collections contain landraces, breeding materials and wild relatives. The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) genebank has over 6,000 accessions mainly from Latin America where cassava originated, and IITA has over 3,000 samples mainly from Africa. Joint analysis of these two collections will provide the first detailed view of cassava’s genetic diversity.

Speaking about the project, whose initial phase was supported by the BBSRC’s Newton-Caldas program, NIAB’s Dr Sarah Dyer commented, “This combined analysis gives us a chance to understand how much diversity has been conserved within these collections as a whole and unlock these genetic resources to help breeders identify materials which could provide novel sources of variation for their target breeding traits”.

Speaking about the visit, funded by the CGIAR’s Excellence in Breeding program, IITA’s Dr Rajneesh Paliwal commented, “The joint analysis of both CIAT and IITA genebanks using bio-digital sequence information has the potential immensely to reshape the way we conserve and harness crop diversity ex-situ. Initially, the most profound impacts of this analysis are likely to be: (a) shedding light at the actual level of genetic variation existing among genotypes to enhance the quality and efficiency of ex-situ conservation, and (b) define a core collection globally as well as separately for each genebank for future cassava breeding. This joint research will also integrate separate cassava collections into a single ‘virtual’ cassava collection and encourage a more targeted use of the diversity conserved.”

See also NIAB News Article: Boosting breeding of carbohydrate heavyweight cassava

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