6 January 2009

Uganda: GM Cassava Ready for Field Trials

Kampala — LABORATORY experiments for the genetically modified (GM) cassava have been completed and the National Crops Resource Research Institute (NCRRI) Namulonge has sought permission from the National biosafety committee to transfer the genetically modified cassava from the green house to the field.

"We are through with the laboratory work. If our application gets a favorable consideration by committee, we shall have the first genetically modified cassava in the field. We have all the tools that can be used to genetically improve the type of cassava we have today in the country,"Dr. Yona Baguma, a researcher said.

One of the roles of the national biosafety committee is to ensure safe conduct and safety of the biotech products to human beings and the environment. The cassava plants shall be subjected to various tests. Recently, the research institute came up with crop materials that combine resistance to both cassava mosaic and cassava brown stem disease.

Researchers have used the technology to impart genes of resistance to cassava mosaic, which is caused by a double stranded virus and cassava brown stem that is caused by the single stranded virus.

"We developed 12 cassava resistant and high yielding varieties. Unfortunately the ten have been attacked by cassava mosaic and brown stem diseases. The two remaining varieties have stood the test and we want to put them into the field to test their performance," Baguma said.

He said to come up with best cassava varieties Ugandans have to use of biotechnology best approaches. According to him, if the field trial succceds, the products that would be generated will be disseminated to the local farmers.

Baguma said famine maybe felt in some areas of the country due the extinction of most staple foods caused by the pest and diseases.

He said that cassava has been invaded by the mosaic and brown stem while black sigatoka and banana weevils are a threat to East African highland bananas.

According to the scientists, cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak disease are the most important constraints affecting cassava production in Uganda and most parts of Africa.

The research aims at improving CMD resistance genes while retaining the superior storage root traits. Baguma was speaking during a workshop on biosafety and biotechnology held at Imperial Royale Hotel on Thursday.

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