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