Real time portable genome sequencing for global food security
4th May 2018 - BioRxiv
The United Nations has listed Zero Hunger as one of the 17 global sustainable development goals to end extreme poverty by 2030. Plant viruses are a major constraint to crop production globally causing an estimated $30 billion in damage leaving millions of people food insecure. In Africa, agriculture employs up to 50% of the workforce, yet only contributes 15% to the GDP on average, suggesting that there is low productivity and limited value addition. This can be addressed through continued innovation in the fields of science and technology as suggested in the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa (S3A). Sustainable management of plant viruses and their associated vectors must include efficient diagnostics for surveillance, detection and identification to inform disease management, including the development and strategic deployment of virus resistant varieties. To date, researchers have been utilizing conventional methods such as include; PCR, qPCR, high throughput sequencing (RNA-Seq, DNA-Seq) and Sanger sequencing for pathogen identification. However, these methods are both costly and time consuming, delaying timely control actions. The emergence of new tools for real-time diagnostics, such as the Oxford Nanopore MinION, have recently proven useful for early detection of Ebola and Zika, even in low resourced laboratories. For the first time globally, the MinION portable pocket DNA sequencer was used to sequence whole plant virus genomes. We used this technology to identify the begomoviruses causing the devastating CMD which is ravaging smallholder farmers crops in sub-Saharan Africa. Cassava, a carbohydrate crop from which tapioca originates, is a major source of calories for over eight hundred (800) million people worldwide. With this technology, farmers struggling with diseased crops can take immediate, restorative action to improve their livelihoods based on information about the health of their plants, generated using a portable, real-time DNA sequencing device.