Forest people of DR Congo guide orphan crop research


Tasked to identify orphan crops for DRC by the national agricultural research body, Dr Dowiya takes a leaf sample from a bean plant in an exercise at the African Plant Breeding Academy at ICRAF
Tasked to identify orphan crops for DRC by the national agricultural research body, Dr Dowiya takes a leaf sample from a bean plant in an exercise at the African Plant Breeding Academy at ICRAF

Dr Benjamin Dowiya Nzawele, 42, arrived at the World Agroforestry Centre, also known as ICRAF, in Nairobi with an important brief from his national agricultural research institute: To “identify orphan crops not currently taken into account by INERA, their contribution in the context of climate change and how to improve them”.

The scientist from the L’Institut National pour l’Etude et la Recherche Agronomique (INERA) station at Mulungu in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had come to ICRAF to attend the African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA), where he and 28 other senior plant breeders from Africa are learning new genomic methods for plant breeding. But he had already been out of his duty station for some time.

“I started my search for orphan crops from Yangambi where there was a large research station during the colonial period. It still has a herbarium. Then I went into the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Pygmies were the ones showing me the forest. These pygmies do not cultivate fields but collect everything they need. They follow the season by the fruit. They know everything.”

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Forgotten Crops May Hold Key to Nutritional Security


This Southern Burkina Faso farmer holds a handful of shea nuts, an orphan crop in Africa. (Catharine Watson/World Agroforestry Centre)
This Southern Burkina Faso farmer holds a handful of shea nuts, an orphan crop in Africa. (Catharine Watson/World Agroforestry Centre)

UC Davis is partnering in a global plant-breeding consortium that is fighting malnutrition and poverty in Africa by improving the traditional crops of the continent.

The African Orphan Crop Consortium ­­— conceived by Howard Shapiro, a senior fellow at UC Davis and the chief agricultural officer at Mars, Incorporated — is making great strides in its ambitious attempt to map and make public the genomes of 101 indigenous African foods.

These “orphan” crops are crucial to African livelihood and nutrition, but have been mostly ignored by science and seed companies because they are not traded internationally like commodities such as rice, corn and wheat.

The genomic data on African orphan crops will help plant breeders more quickly select for traits that improve the nutritional content, productivity and resilience of Africa’s most important food crops.

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UC Davis partners with African Orphan Crops Consortium to sequence genomes of 101 indigenous African foods


UC Davis, in partnership with the African Orphan Crops Consortium, is working to improve the indigenous crops of Africa in order to eradicate stunting, a medical condition resulting from malnutrition and chronic hunger.

The African Orphan Crops Consortium was launched in 2012 by Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro, a senior fellow at UC DavisCollege of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and chief agricultural officer at Mars, Incorporated, who took on the task of sequencing the genomes of 101 indigenous African foods in order to help plant breeders improve these foods’ nutritional content, productivity and resiliency.

“We were told, in order to have any impact on nutrition, we would need to improve at least 100 crops,” Shapiro said in a press release. “In the end, we went with 101 crops, including the baobab tree, which can survive even the worst drought. You can eat its leaves, which are actually quite tasty.”

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LGC publishes new guide on practical laboratory skills for molecular biologists


This new guide is intended to support those working in a molecular biology laboratory.

Tim Wilkes, researcher in LGC’s Molecular Biology team, and co-author of the guide, explains, “An analyst working in any kind of laboratory will require a basic set of practical skills, but molecular biology laboratories provide scenarios and analytical materials which demand specific practical considerations.”

This new best practice guide covers the skills and other measures required to produce valid results in a molecular biology laboratory − results that are not compromised by poor practical technique, possible cross-contamination or non-validated methodology.

There are sections on basic practices, such as measuring mass or volume, and preparing solutions of known concentration. Additional skills that relate to the nature of the materials being handled in a molecular biology laboratory, such as preventing contamination of the samples and protecting the analyst, critical concerns for molecular biologists, are also detailed.

Practical laboratory skills for molecular biologists is freely available for download.

This guide has been produced with support from the UK National Measurement System, funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.