Dr. Vincent N. Fondong, a professor of biology at Delaware State University, has been awarded a three-year, $1 million grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and National Science Foundation to study virus resistance in cassava, a staple food crop in Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
Awarded through NSF and the foundation's Basic Research to Enable Agriculture Development (BREAD) program, the grant will fund a project to genetically engineer cassava for resistance to viruses such as the African cassava mosaic virus and the cassava brown streak virus. Cassava is the third largest source of carbohydrates in tropical regions and an important part of the diet of some five hundred million people worldwide.
Fondong will collaborate on the project with three co-principal investigators — Stephen Winter at the German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Culture; Kone Mongomake at the University of Abobo-Adjame in Ivory Coast; and Oumar Doungous at the Institute of Agriculture Research for Development in Cameroon.
"In Cameroon during [a trip this summer], I was able to isolate some of these viruses for my research," said Fondong. "Cameroon is a country where we are intensifying our efforts because it is a new hot spot for these viruses....Our mandate is to come up with a solution for the whole of Africa that could also be applied to the Indian subcontinent and Latin America."