Breeding a better banana; NC Research Campus professor seeks to answer challenge of hunger

Groundbreaking produce research in NC
Published: Oct. 10, 2017 at 11:22 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 11, 2017 at 2:08 PM EDT
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KANNAPOLIS, NC (WBTV) - Dr. Robert Reid, Research Assistant Professor with UNC Charlotte's Bioinformatics Services Division at the North Carolina Research Campus, has been awarded a $25,000 grant through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the "Improvement of Banana for the Smallholder Farmers in the Great Lakes Region of Africa".

The goal of the Gates Foundation is to reduce hunger and poverty for millions of farming families in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by increasing agricultural productivity in a sustainable way.

Dr. Reid will be working with Dr. Al Brown of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to improve genomic breeding approaches for the East African Banana. The IITA, celebrating its 50th year, is a non-profit organization that generates agricultural innovations to meet Africa's most pressing challenges of hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

"The goal is to improve the disease resistance for the pests that it ends up facing, ultimately that will improve the yield, if you improve the yield you improve the amount that a farmer will bring to market and improve their financial standing," Dr. Reid told WBTV.

For this project, Dr. Reid will be sequencing selected varieties of the East African highland banana for the purpose of developing an Illumina SNP microarray, specific for banana genotyping.

Further research will compare and contrast the sequencing results to the current banana reference genome to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which will be used in collaboration with Illumina to facilitate construction of a banana SNP chip. These efforts will be used to identify genetic marker regions of interest.

Ultimately, this will guide and accelerate breeding strategies to develop new varieties of crops that are more resistant to disease, provide more nutrition for consumers and better yield for farmers, stimulating local economies.

Dr. Reid also said that principles learned in this research can benefit local farmers.

"The same thing happens in parallel in North Carolina crops which ultimately is used again.  This type of information is used to improve those kinds of crops, ultimately helping farmers and the breeding strategies, because again, disease, improving yield, improving nutrition, all those things matter whether it's sweet potato, blueberries, broccolli," Dr. Reid added. "This helps the small rural farmer with the small plot of land…it's actually improving their economic outlook also."

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