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AU: Cassava: the staple crop that can kill you

Photo: Jack Zalium / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Food Processing: Easy to cultivate and drought-tolerant, the cassava plant is eaten by a billion people around the world every day. But its popularity is also its weakness, as attacks by pests and diseases have a potentially huge impact on food security. It’s also the only staple crop that can kill you or cause chronic neurological disease if it’s not processed, potentially producing fatal levels of cyanide when drought-stressed.

To help improve strategies for breeding disease-resistant and climate-tolerant varieties of this root crop, an international research team, including scientists from Monash University, has for the first time mapped cassava’s genetic diversity. The findings indicated genetic differences between the varieties and will therefore help inform the production of more resistant and safe cassava crops using these and other favourable varieties from across the world. For the Monash team, the new research also provides a way to better understand why cassava produces toxins under conditions such as drought and how that can be safely reduced in the growing plant without jeopardising pest resistance.

Read the full article at the Food Processing website