Sep 12, 2019
AgBiome gets grant to to combat major pest of African subsistence crops

AgBiome a company that harnesses the plant microbiome, has received Phase II grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue the discovery of microbes that target sweetpotato weevils (SPW) and to move lead strains into early product development for future deployment to smallholder farmers in African nations.

This is the second step in a multi-phase project focused on developing a biological treatment for SPW. Research from Phase I demonstrated that AgBiome’s innovative microbial capture and screening program could identify microbes with insecticidal activity against SPW. Over 25,000 new microbes were isolated for screening, including seven bacteria and 15 fungi with activity against SPW. Phase II will move this work forward by testing these lead strains in greenhouse and field trials.

Sweet potatoes are a key dietary staple and supplemental food crop in sub-Saharan Africa where they are primarily grown by smallholder farmers. The sweetpotato weevil is the crop’s most threatening insect pest, causing losses of 60-100 percent if left untreated. To date, there are no viable control methods for the weevil in Africa. Biological control is an attractive solution, generally affording low- or no-exposure risk and potentially offering season-long control through inoculation of host plants.

The project will be led by AgBiome researchers, Chad Keyser and Brooke Bissinger. They will partner with the laboratories of Jeffrey Davis at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and Milton Otema Anyanga and Benard Yada at the National Agricultural Research Organization based at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Uganda. Both Davis and Otema made important contributions to the success of the project in Phase I.

“We are thrilled with the opportunity to move this project to the next stage,” Keyser said. “We’ve made tremendous progress in the last three years and are excited to continue working towards a product for such a destructive pest.”


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