Iowa State University agronomists have begun research to improve the drought tolerance and disease resistance of corn grown by farmers in Tanzania and sub-Saharan Africa.

Thomas Lubberstedt and Walter Suza, professors in the Iowa State agronomy department, are co-principal investigators on the project supported by U.S. Agency for International Development’s Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative. Project funding of $740,000 will be shared with principal investigator Joseph Ndunguru at the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute, which will have overall responsibility for the management of the project in Tanzania.

The ISU research team will be involved in molecular plant breeding for resistance to maize lethal necrosis disease and molecular analyses of drought tolerance including genome-wide association studies, development of tools for marker-aided selection, genomics and metabolomics—the study of cell metabolism. The research will be done in collaboration with Tanzanian researchers, contributing to capacity building in corn research in Tanzania.

Corn provides 61 percent of dietary calories and more than half of protein to the Tanzanian people, making it one of the country’s major crops. Corn growers in Tanzania, and sub-Saharan Africa, are experiencing heavy production losses due to drought, MLND and a parasitic weed called striga. Producers will benefit from the project’s potential to improve yields and increase family incomes.

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