Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A combat strategy for purple witchweed

Plant scientist Salim Al-Babili and his team are working across many fronts to save sub-Saharan African cereal crops from a menacing weed.

Twenty years ago, Salim Al-Babili was working with an international team to genetically engineer golden rice: a variety of rice that synthesizes the vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene, and that can help combat potentially lethal vitamin A deficiency. Since arriving at KAUST in 2013, Al-Babili has turned his molecular genetics expertise to save staple cereal crops in sub-Saharan Africa from the parasitic clutches of witchweed.

Purple witchweed, scientifically known as Striga hermonthica, is an invasive parasitic plant that undermines cereal crops in sub-Saharan Africa, with annual losses exceeding US$7 billion. The weeds endanger the livelihoods and food supplies of an estimated 300 million people.

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Image: Striga weeds survive by siphoning off water and nutrients from the host crop for their own growth.
© 2019 Vinicius M. Lube