$5 Million NSF PIRE Grant Will Fund Research on African Crop Disease

North Carolina State University will receive one of 17 new National Science Foundation Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE) grants to study cassava mosaic disease, which severely limits production of one of Africa’s most important food crops.

The five-year, $5 million project will be led by Linda Hanley-Bowdoin, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology at NC State. She specializes in plant DNA viruses, called geminiviruses, like the ones infecting the cassava plant. Cassava is a tuber grown in Africa that can thrive despite poor soil conditions and drought.

The study will establish a partnership with researchers in East Africa to examine how plant DNA viruses change over time.

“Agriculture is increasingly a global enterprise and finding solutions to food security problems will depend on research partnerships such as this one that explore the basic science of how plant DNA viruses evolve and what limits their ability to adapt over time,” Hanley-Bowdoin said. “Such fundamental knowledge can be used to develop rational, durable strategies to control these important plant pathogens.”

Hanley-Bowdoin is joined by co-principal investigator George Kennedy, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Entomology at NC State, and co-principal investigator Siobain Duffy, an assistant professor at Rutgers University.

NC State faculty members, including plant pathologist Ignacio Carbone, biochemist Jose Ascencio-Ibanez and education professor Timothy Goodal, will participate in the study, as will researchers from Auburn University, N.C. A&T State University, the International Livestock Research Institute Hub in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute in Tanzania.