Howard Shapiro on his moonshot project

Howard Shapiro on his moonshot project

You asked a question about why do you do genomics? Why do you sequence crops? And what do you get for it? What is the end game? That’s just the beginning
of the story, discovery. DAMARIS A. ODENY:
Africa has some of the most nutritious
crops in the world and some of the most
productive areas in the world. And you still see malnutrition. KATJA KEHLENBECK: If
children in a certain age are not well-nourished,
they get stunted. They are not as strong
as other children. Their brain will not
develop in the right way. And this will never
be reversible, even if you feed these children
excellently afterwards, they will not change anymore. It’s done. In Kenya, for example, 33% of
all our children under five are stunted. HOWARD YANA-SHAPIRO:
Nutritional optimization is the most important
thing we can do– improve nutrition,
make plants better. The ability to look at
genomes, read genomes, interact with genomes– all
of these things have been going at an
incredibly fast rate due to advances in technologies. And imagine it as
an encyclopedia of all the information
you could want to know about that
particular plant. Genomics helps you have a
barrier to the collapse that has caused by
plants that are not adaptable to as
much climate change, not adaptable to
plastids disease, not adaptable to higher yields
or nutrient and water use efficiency. The large seeded
companies will never work on these small
crops, because there’s not a big enough market. There’s a limited market. And because of that, it’s
up to people like ourselves in the African Orphan
Crops Consortium and all of our
uncommon collaborators to actually put this into play. It’s men and women. We’re training people in
Africa with African scientists to go back to the
African institutions that they worked for. It’s a collective that’s working
together to do this project. DAMARIS A. ODENY:
Genetics has been my passion for a very long time. Within the last
seven years, I would say I’ve been involved
in really trying to crack genomes of crops. I’ve been focusing, actually, on
underutilized crops in Africa. We utilize the
genetic information we get from the crops. We work together with a
breeder, so you know out of these hundred
genotypes, I know this particular one
has all the kind of things that I’m looking for. And this one has the others. HOWARD YANA-SHAPIRO:
All that breeding is done in Mendelian genetics. So taking pollen from the
male and to the female flower. You’re not doing
anything that would be called transgenics
or genetic engineering. This is traditional breeding. This combination of
parentage is so important. And the speed to get it to
the farmer and then the farmer to the table is so critical. We’re trying to shrink the 5
to 7,000 years to domestication down to two or three years. With a fully sequenced,
assembled, annotated genome, you have order. And from that order,
you can make decisions. MERCY NYUAMBURA: Here, with
this plant environmental lab, apart from controlling
the conditions, we’re able to use very
minimal soil amount. At the same time, you
can control the nutrients that you want to check on. And within three weeks, you
would be able to have data. HOWARD YANA-SHAPIRO: Shrinking
the time on decision-making so it’s real, versus let’s
grow it, let’s grow it again, let’s grow it again. MERCY NYUAMBURA:
And the challenge is you’re going to
get in the field. It’s really challenging to
have experiments in the field, because conditions change. And you cannot
really control that. HOWARD YANA-SHAPIRO: It’s
hard to ask national research institutions to do
this kind of work. And a farmer can’t risk it. Because it really is this
livelihood, and it’s just food. MERCY NYUAMBURA:
Yeah, definitely. HOWARD YANA-SHAPIRO: So we
step in and add one more piece of nutrition– MERCY NYUAMBURA: Yeah. HOWARD YANA-SHAPIRO: –that’s
not traditional nutrition, but is the cutting
edge of nutrition. MERCY NYUAMBURA: Mm-hmm. HOWARD YANA-SHAPIRO:
Someone would say, well, why do you need to
do all of this stuff? In 25 years, it will
just be about 1 billion 750 million people
in Africa alone. And you can’t expect to
feed that kind of population on chance. I have no idea what
technology will come in 10 years in sequencing. There will be more
breakthroughs. But what we have
is extraordinary. So I’m quite content that
the knowledge we have will be lasting.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Like she said, the plants are nourishing enough! The distribution is the problem!
    What use will a "new" plant have, if they will not be cultivate, because instead od them, soja will grow in the good soil, for europas and americas cattle.

  2. I'm not sure I trust santa claus with genetic modification of plants.Just kidding,I wouldn't trust anyone on that yet.Also,the best plants possible won't help against malnutrition if the goverment is….handicapped.

  3. Putting patents on gentically altered crops/plants isnt something Black africans should be Pushing for @ this time.Their priorities should be Math &Science education and  kicking out Foreign Problem starters

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