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Danforth Center and Dow Collaborate to Develop High-Yielding Disease-Resistant Cassava Plants

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Researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center have entered into a research agreement with Dow AgroSciences to study how Dow's proprietary EXZACTTM Precision Technology can help improve cassava crops. As part of the collaboration, researchers at the Danforth Center will generate data demonstrating the utility of what could be an important technology in its quest to develop high-yielding and virus resistant cassava plants. Dow agreed to donate the technology, providing access to intellectual property, validated, high-quality zinc-finger reagents, and expertise through free consultation with the company's scientists.

The EXZACTTM technology, which is based on zinc finger nucleases (ZFN) allows specific and efficient addition, deletion or editing of genes at targeted locations in plant genomes. This delivers a means for engineering multi-gene stacks, editing native genes and more efficiently producing crops with enhanced plant performance and value-added traits such as improved nutrition.

Cassava is a staple food for millions of people living in developing countries. Its production, however, is limited by several constraints. The starchy storage roots have poor nutritional content and the plant is susceptible to a number of pathogens. In Africa, for instance, cassava is under threat from the virus causing Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). CMD alone accounts for 35 million tons of yield loss in Africa, with an estimated value of nearly USD 1 billion per year. The Danforth Center aims to develop cassava plants resistant to both CBSD and CMD.