Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Develop "War Room" Simulations to Fight Crop Diseases

November 27, 2019

Scientists used the case of sweet potato in Uganda to create a model in seed systems and landscapes to develop a management strategy guide, which can be used to develop good seed systems for farmers to access high-quality, disease-free planting materials.

Sweet potato is a staple crop in Uganda. The scientists focused on the structure of an informal sweet potato system in Gulu Region for its resilience to the potential introduction of a pathogen. They investigated the roles of sellers and villages to analyze their potential role in spreading disease while at the same time distributing seeds of improved crop varieties.

Using the combined data of the observed seed transactions and the estimated dispersal risk of village-to-village proximity, the scientists were able to create a supranetwork that they used as a "war room" to simulate analyses that showed the potential paths a pathogen could take ahead of its spread. Results showed that when trying to slow down pathogen spread, the villages intended for surveillance and those for management were not necessarily the same. The results also emphasized that the starting position in the network was critical for epidemic spread and final epidemic outcomes. Lastly, the results suggest that identifying locations should be done strategically to maximize the chances of slowing down or completely stopping an epidemic.

The analysis framework derived from the study can be applied to come up with recommendations for different seed systems. The methods developed through the "war room" can be applied to other plant diseases such as the cassava mosaic disease in Southeast Asia, which is also currently under study. These methods are necessary to develop management strategies that can be deployed quickly to detect new diseases and prevent their rapid spread throughout regions.

Read the full paper in APS Publications.

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