AgBiome, LLC, a leader in the development of microbial solutions for agriculture, has been awarded a multi-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to discover biological insect control for deployment to smallholder farmers in African nations. The project, entitled RSM Systems Biology for Sweet potato: Engineering the African Root/Soil/Microbiome for Enhanced Crop Productivity, aims to discover beneficial microbes with the ability to control sweet potato weevils.
Sweet potatoes are a key dietary staple and supplemental food crop in sub-Saharan Africa, where they are primarily grown by poor smallholder farmers. Orange-fleshed varieties provide an important source of Vitamin A, a nutrient critical in preventing blindness and immune system weakness. The sweet potato weevil is the crop's most serious 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 entomologists, Drs. Brooke Bissinger and Chad Keyser, and will occur in partnership with the laboratory of Dr. Jeff Davis at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.
"We are extremely excited to use AgBiome's technology to benefit smallholder farmers in Africa," says Bissinger. "Sweetpotato's importance in sub-Saharan Africa was highlighted this year with the World Food Prize going to four researchers who developed and promoted Vitamin-A fortified sweet potatoes. It is an honor to be able to contribute to the protection and sustainability of this valuable crop."
AgBiome has already established a diverse collection of plant-associated microbes and has fully sequenced and annotated the genomes for greater than 26,000 microbial strains. The grant will support the isolation, sequencing, and testing of microbes associated with U.S. and African sweet potato plants in an effort to discover microbes that are capable of controlling the weevil.
"This is such an incredible opportunity for us at AgBiome," says Keyser. "The scope of this project is so much more than pest control or increasing yields. We've been given the opportunity to make a real impact on the health and livelihood of millions of people."