International Potato Center Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr. Kreuze’s project is one of over 100 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We’re excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea towards global impact.” To receive funding, Dr. Kreuze and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global health and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization, and nutrition. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9, will be accepted through May 15, 2012.

Dr. Kreuze’s project involves cutting-edge research directed at eliminating an age-old problem, virus infection in plants, which can cause enormous crop losses in major food staples. Crops such as sweetpotato, cassava, yams, bananas, and potatoes are prone to virus infection over successive generations, because they are grown vegetatively and not from seeds. The only way to eliminate virus infection in the plants is through a laborious, time-consuming process that involves a combination of heat or cryotherapy treatment, and meristem tip culture. It is a process that has advanced little since its inception over 60 years ago.

The purpose of the CIP project is to use new knowledge of RNA and plant defense mechanisms to fight off virus infection. Dr. Kreuze and his team will stimulate RNA silencing and Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR) in infected plants in vitro. The goal is to tip the delicate balance between the plant RNA silencing mechanism to combat the virus, and the virus’ ability to avoid and suppress this mechanism, in favor of the plant. If successful, they will produce “kits” containing appropriate cocktails for different crop viruses. The project will be tested on potato initially, and if successful, will be applied to a wider range of viruses and crops, including sweetpotato, cassava, yams, and bananas.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 600 people in 45 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

About the International Potato Center

CIP is a not-for-profit international agricultural research-for-development organization with a focus on potato, sweet potato, and Andean roots and tubers. It is dedicated to achieving food security and improved lives for poor people in root and tuber farming and food systems of the developing world. Headquartered in Lima, Peru, CIP has staff and activities in over 30 locations across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The center works with partners to contribute high quality science, technology, and capacity strengthening for sustainable science-based solutions. CIP is a member of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food secure future.

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