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8TH JUNE 2018
Welcome to Issue 5 of the DrumBeat!

In this issue, we share a special feature on the advent of genome editing in steering crop and animal breeding programs to top-notch status. The opinion piece by Dr. Hennie Groenewald, Executive Manager Biosafety South Africa outlines the voyage that genetics, molecular biology and genetic engineering has taken in harnessing DNA potential in improving crops, livestock, providing cures to diseases and offering solutions to numerous global challenges. The month of May also saw three African countries make landmark step towards embracing biotechnology in agriculture. Swaziland and Ethiopia approved insect resistant cotton for planting (environmental release). In addition, Ethiopia granted a special permit on maize for conduct of confined field trials under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. In Kenya, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) issued a license for conducting National Performance Trials of insect resistant cotton. Our video of the month section highlights the role African women are playing in employing bioscience solutions to crop productivity constraints towards a food-secure continent.

The biennial conference on Emerging Technologies for Global Food Security is set for 19 – 21 June 2018 where the world’s preeminent researchers and policy makers on agriculture will be exploring innovations for feeding the world population. ISAAA AfriCenter Director, Dr. Margaret Karembu will be attending.

In our last issue, we announced the open call for participation in the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) annual media awards. This call is still open and we encourage science journalists who have been reporting on agricultural biotechnology in their respective seven OFAB countries to continue making submissions. Kenyan journalists willing to participate can find the call here.

Happy reading!


The month of May 2018 saw a number of approvals granted for cultivation of biotech crops.

Regionally, Swaziland Environment Authority (SEA) granted two landmark approvals for importation of Bt cotton seed and environmental release of the crop, making the Kingdom of eSwatini the latest African country to adopt Bt cotton. Ethiopia made two approvals, Bt cotton for planting (environmental release) and special permit on WEMA maize for confined field trials. In Kenya, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) issued a license for conducting National Performance Trials of insect resistant cotton.

Globally, six countries made approvals for cultivation of four biotech crops for both food and feed use. Japan approved for food use, biotech soybean modified for herbicide tolerance and improved plant quality. Argentina approved for commercial use, biotech maize improved for herbicide-tolerance and insect-resistance. USA approved for food use, Golden Rice modified for enhanced Provitamin A content. Australia and New Zealand granted approvals to biotech cotton for food use, whereas South Korea approved for feed use, maize and soybean modified for both herbicide-tolerance and insect-resistance.

Story of the month
Inside the Genetically Modified Cassava Research in Uganda

An in-depth story into Genetically Modified (GM) cassava research in Uganda gives a blow-by-blow account of the progress researchers have made in developing GM cassava that is resistant to Cassava Brown Streak Disease and Cassava Mosaic Disease – the two diseases ravaging the crop across the country and threatening food security. The research, happening in Ugandan Bioscience Molecular Laboratory, uses a new technology that involves the extraction of a gene from whiteflies – the causative vector of Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and Cassava Mosaic Disease – and introducing it into local cassava varieties.

Genome-wide association mapping and genomic prediction for CBSD resistance in Manihot esculenta

Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) is an important security crop that faces severe yield loses due to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). Motivated by the slow progress of conventional breeding, genetic improvement of cassava is undergoing rapid change due to the implementation of quantitative trait loci mapping, Genome-wide association mapping (GWAS), and genomic selection (GS). In this study, two breeding panels were genotyped for SNP markers using genotyping by sequencing and phenotyped for foliar and CBSD root symptoms at five locations in Uganda. The results provide an insight into the genetics of CBSD resistance to guide CBSD marker-assisted breeding and highlight the potential of GS to improve cassava breeding.

The Interactive Effect of Residue Quality, Quantity, Soil Texture and N Management on Maize Crop Yield in Ghana

Food insecurity and declining soil fertility across much of sub-Saharan Africa in recent decades have led to pursuit of alternative nutrient management strategies for both improving crop yields and the restoration of degraded soils. This 3-year field-based study involving two sites of contrasting soils in the semi-deciduous forest zone of Ghana offers recommendations for improving the profitability, sustainability and efficiency of nutrients through site specific fertilizer in West Africa Agro-Ecosystems.

Identification of Quantitative Trait Loci for Grain Yield and Other Traits in Tropical Maize Under High and Low Soil-Nitrogen Environments

Low soil Nitrogen (low-N) is one of the most important abiotic stressors responsible for significant yield losses in maize (Zea mays L.). The development and commercialization of low-N–tolerant genotypes can contribute to improved food security in developing countries. Marker-assisted breeding holds great promise for improving such complex traits more efficiently and in less time, but requires markers associated with the trait of interest. This study identified 13 QTL with 158 SNP markers, of which nine and four QTL were detected under low- and high-N environments, respectively. These QTL would be invaluable for rapid introgression of genomic regions into maize populations using marker-assisted selection (MAS) approaches.

Impact Magazine: Towards Africa’s Agricultural Transformation – AGRA 2018
Agriculture, food security and nutrition in Malawi: Leveraging the links – IFPRI 2018
Footprints of Africa RISING Phase 1: 2011 – 2016
Genome Editing – the what, how and why
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