The Cassava Genome Hub, an online platform that produces and stores more than 15 terabytes of genetic data on cassava, is pioneering a big data approach to crop improvement.
“When it comes to cassava, we are in the midst of a genomic revolution that is producing enormous amounts of information,” said Luis Augusto Becerra, Cassava Program leader at CIAT.
“Our goal is to develop the tools and skills needed to analyze all this data, and in turn accelerate and enhance the impact of international agricultural research on cassava.”
The Hub allows researchers to manage and mine huge amounts of data independently, using graphical and analytical tools to conduct complex analysis in a user-friendly way. The process involves taking cassava samples, genetically sequencing them, and uploading that data to the site.
Scientists around the world can then compare wild with domesticated cassava plants, or land races with elite lines, to identify differences, and pinpoint desirable traits and genes.
Taking a ‘byte’ out of blight
Data from the Hub is already being put to good use. Researchers have found that different genetic variations in a single DNA building block may help predict the susceptibility of cassava varieties to heat, drought, pests, and diseases.
For example, data from the platform has been used to screen for and identify genetic resistance to Cassava Bacterial Blight (CBB), a destructive disease that causes yield losses of up to 75% in some African countries. That data can now be used in efforts to develop blight-resistant commercial cassava varieties.
According to Dr. Becerra, the Cassava Genome Hub “can contribute far beyond the scope of what we thought possible when we began. There’s huge and unknown potential that we haven’t tapped into yet.”
He foresees the sequencing of all 6,000+ cassava accessions in the CIAT genebank in the next couple of years. The Hub’s technologies are already expanding to other tropical crops, including cocoa, coffee, banana, and sugarcane.
The Cassava Genome Hub is just one way in which CIAT is working to transform rural livelihoods through the power of information. CIAT will also jointly lead the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture, launched in January 2017, which aims to help organize, convene, and inspire partners to use open data in innovative ways.
The Cassava Genome Hub is jointly managed by CIAT, the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD), and Research Institute for Development (IRD), with participation from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas; South Green; Agropolis Foundation; BGI; National University of Colombia, University of London, and a network of collaborators worldwide.
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