Real time portable genome sequencing for global food security

Using genomics to fight Cassava pathogens

Our research aims to save cassava by using pocket DNA sequencing, supercomputing and data analytics all while increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Cassava is a plant that feeds 800 million people globally, and ensuring its sustainability will increase food security for 10 million smallholder farmers in East Africa.

Portable DNA sequencing and our customised sequence data analysis pipelines will generate real-time virus diagnostic results, ensuring early detection of plant pathogens or pests and enabling swift interventions. The rapid time to result and immediate access to data provides instant insight into the precise health status of the plant.

We expect our project to succeed because the method is relatively simple, required expertise exits in pilot countries and we have successfully trialled the portable DNA sequencing technology in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, where we were able to detect mixed and early infections. Therefore, the project will positively impact timely pathogen or pest detection, identification and monitoring, clean seed systems, germplasm screening and resistant variety development.

For more background information, see the suggested readings below or visit the Cassava Virus Action Project website.

Research team leader: Dr Laura M. Boykin

I am a TED Senior Fellow (2017), Gifted Citizen (2017) and a computational biologist using genomics and supercomputing to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa control whiteflies, which have caused devastation of local cassava crops. My lab uses genetic data to understand the virus and whitefly’s evolution. I also work to equip African scientists with a greater knowledge of genomics and high-performance computing skills to tackle future insect outbreaks. I completed my PhD in Biology at the University of New Mexico while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics group. I was invited to present our lab’s research on whiteflies at the United Nations Solution Summit in New York City for the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals to end extreme poverty by 2030.

PhD opportunities

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an applicationDifferent application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


World Food Day

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