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Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Each initiative is an experiment in the use of challenges to focus innovation on making an impact. Individual challenges address some of the same problems, but from differing perspectives.


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Challenges: Protecting Crop Plants
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Endophytic Biological Control for Cassava and Beans

Souroush Parsa, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (Cali, Colombia)
Oct 23, 2012

Souroush Parsa of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia, along with Fernando E. Vega of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will research whether fungi that kill insect pests can become endophytic in crop seeds, meaning the fungi can live within resulting plants without harming them. This would allow smallholder farmers to inoculate crop seeds using much smaller quantities of the fungal pathogens than when used in sprays over entire fields, providing a cheaper and more durable biological control method.

Engineered TALE Nucleases for Broad-Spectrum Resistance Against Cassava-Infecting Geminiviruses

Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar, University of California, Davis (Davis, California, United States)
Oct 23, 2012

Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar of the University of California, Davis, along with David Segal of the University of California, Davis and Vincent Fondong of Delaware State University in the U.S., seek to design custom TALE nucleases that target and cleave critical regions of DNA from cassava-infecting geminiviruses (CMGs) to completely inactivate the viruses. CMGs are a major threat to cassava production in Africa, and targeted nucleases could be used to engineer CMG resistance into staple African cassava varieties to promote regional food security.

Neuropeptides as Transgenic Nematicides

Johnathan Dalzell, Queen's University Belfast (Belfast, United Kingdom)
Oct 22, 2012

Johnathan Dalzell of Queen's University Belfast in the United Kingdom will improve food crop productivity particularly for small hold subsistence farmers by reducing the losses caused by pathogenic nematode worms, which are estimated to cost around $125 billion per year globally. These pathogenic worms absorb small proteins called neuropeptides from their external environment directly into their central nervous system, which can influence their movement and sensory behavior. They will exploit this process to destroy the worms. In Phase I, they identified two neuropeptide genes in the root knot nematode (RKN) Meloidogyne incognita, which is a serious pathogen of many crop types. They also exposed infectious stage nematodes to a selection of neuropeptides and found 11 that inhibited their movement towards plant roots, and 13 that protected a crop plant from infection. Finally, they established protocols to genetically modify crops to express and secrete the neuropeptides. In Phase II, they will develop knowledge and methods to produce transgenic plantain, which is a staple food crop of sub-Saharan Africa and a target of five major plant parasitic nematode species, to secrete multiple candidate neuropeptides, and test their resistance to infection.

The Transfer Cells of the Maize Seed, an Anti-Fungal Barrier

Gregorio Hueros, University of Alcalá (Alcalá de Henares, Spain)
Oct 19, 2012

Gregorio Hueros of Universidad de Alcala in Spain will engineer maize kernels to increase the expression of anti-fungal genes in the transfer cell layer, which transports nutrients and protects filial tissues in the adjacent growing seeds. This could boost the ability of these cells to protect the grain against invasion by pathogens such as mycotoxin-producing fungi.

Improvement of Disease Resistance in Rice and Sorghum

Simon Krattinger, University of Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland)
Oct 18, 2012

Simon Krattinger of CSIRO Plant Industry in Australia, along with Beat Keller and Evans Lagudah of the University of Zurich, seek to generate transgenic rice and sorghum that are resistant to specific pathogenic fungi by introducing a known disease resistance gene, Lr34, from wheat.

Targeted Biological Control of Cassava Insect Pests

Steven Kelly, University of Oxford (Oxford, United Kingdom)
Oct 18, 2012

Steven Kelly of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom proposes to genetically engineer a benign parasite as a biological control mechanism against herbivorous insect pests. When extracted from a cassava leaf by a feeding insect pest, the parasite expresses the insecticide and thus acts to control pest levels. This biological control agent would target only the insect pests, and could require only a one-time distribution, an important consideration in developing countries.

A New Strategy for Resistant and More Nutritious Rice

Aymeric Goyer, Oregon State University (Corvallis, Oregon, United States)
Oct 17, 2012

Aymeric Goyer of Oregon State University and Pamela Ronald of the University of California, Davis in the U.S. will develop rice plants that accumulate higher levels of thiamine (vitamin B1) to test the theory that boosting thiamine enhances the plant's resistance to disease. This strategy could lead to crops that can not only resist two devastating pathogens, Xanthomonas oryzae and Magnaporthe grisea, and lead to higher yields, but also produce rice of higher nutritional value.

Aspergillus-Resistant Aflatoxin-Free Transgenic Groundnuts

Monica Schmidt, University of Arizona (Tucson, Arizona, United States)
Oct 16, 2012

Monica Schmidt of the University of Arizona and Dilip Shah of the Danforth Center in the U.S. will work to develop a fungal resistant, aflatoxin-free transgenic groundnut by simultaneously suppressing fungal growth and inhibiting the fungus' ability to biosynthesize the mycotoxin compound. This may eliminate carcinogenic mycotoxin contamination making groundnuts safe for consumption.

Non-Protein-Based Resistance to Sweetpotato Weevils

Marc Ghislain, International Potato Center (Lima, Peru)
Oct 16, 2012

Marc Ghislain of the International Potato Center in Peru proposes to identify key genes in African sweetpotato weevils that can be used as targets for RNA interference strategies. Engineering gene silencing approaches could confer pest resistance in food crops like the sweetpotato.

A Lab-on-Mobile-Device Platform for Seed Testing

Donald Cooper, Mobile Assay Inc (Boulder, Colorado, United States)
Oct 15, 2012

Donald Cooper of Mobile Assay Inc. in the U.S. will develop a low-cost, highly sensitive smartphone-based platform that employs phone cameras to image and amplify signals from immunoassay rapid test strips to detect Botrytis and aflatoxin infection in seeds or soil. Connecting phone data to a cloud server would allow farmers to monitor seed and crop quality and enable the development of regional preventative strategies.

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is part of the Grand Challenges partnership network. Visit www.grandchallenges.org to view the map of awarded grants across this network and grant opportunities from partners.