Category Archives: News

NEXTGEN Sends 58 Team Members to Nanning, China for World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops

World Congress on Root and Tuber CropsFifty-eight NEXTGEN scientists representing NEXTGEN partners from Africa, North America, and South America will attend the first World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops (WCRTC) in Nanning, China January 18-22. A 5-day conference drawing more than 500 scientists from across the globe, WCRTC represents the merger of the 3rd Scientific Conference of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) & the 17th Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC). During the conference, dedicated to adding value to root and tuber crops, more than twenty NEXTGEN scientists will give presentations on their current research on topics ranging from diseases threatening cassava to breeding to biodiversity. Additionally, 17 NEXTGEN Masters and PhD students will present posters on their research at Cornell University and Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

NEXTGEN is a proud sponsor of the World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops and is honored to support four outstanding female cassava researchers with NEXTGEN Cassava Early Career Female Scientist travel awards to attend the conference. These awards, presented to Teddy Amuge from Uganda; Sally Mallowa-Nyawanda from Kenya; Sarah Nanyiti from Uganda; and Nneka Okereke from Nigeria, will provide an opportunity for the awardees to meet with cassava experts from around the world and to present their research to a large and influential audience.

World Congress on Root and Tuber Crops

Joy Adiele Attends AWARD’s Enhancing Negotiation Skills Course

AWARD logoJoy Adiele, PhD student at Wageningen University and researcher at National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, Nigeria, recently attended the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) course, Enhancing Negotiation Skills, in Nairobi, Kenya, supported by NEXTGEN Cassava. Below is Joy’s report on the course:

The course began with a lecture from Deborah M. Kolb, the founder of the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons College School of Management and former executive director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Joy Adiele receives AWARD certificateThe one-week course was focused on negotiation processes and how women fare in them, including understanding the ways in which organization’s policies and practices, though appearing gender neutral, could have unintended but differential impacts on different groups of men and women. I learnt how to adopt negotiation skills in different capacities that could directly initiate other changes and help realize joint gains, especially in gender-related issues. I got to develop some practical skills on how to identify potential wins and craft strategies to achieve them. Now I understand the simple actions that oneself, people, or organizations can take that could accumulate to create substantive change.

AWARD Negotiation Skills course group photoThe Enhancing Negotiation Skills course is of essence for women who want to break the glass ceiling. The ability and confidence it impacts into one is invaluable. I am grateful to the Next Generation Cassava Breeding Project for giving me the opportunity to participate in such a life-changing course. It is a needed skill for my career success.

NEXTGEN PhD Student Roberto Lozano Attends Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Course

NEXTGEN Cassava PhD student Roberto Lozano recently attended a two-week course on Statistical Methods for Functional Genomics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), and he reports on it here:

CSHL is considered among the leading research institutions in the world in molecular biology and genetics. Not only because of its history (considerable long list of noble laureates) but also for the current research taking place there.

Part of my research as a graduate student is focused on using high-throughput genomic data to identify functional regions across the cassava genome and try to use this information to improve Cassava GS-assisted breeding. Some of the high-throughput genomic data will come from transcriptome sequencing, chromatin footprinting and methylation profiling analysis.

Statistical Methods for Functional Genomics course attendees

Statistical Methods for Functional Genomics course attendees

High-throughput sequencing has become a major technique in biological research. However analyzing big data sets, products of these technologies, carries some challenges that are not always properly tackled. These kinds of errors can threaten the biological inferences that are made. All the techniques that I planned on using for my research carry some unique difficulties and sometimes complex statistical principles underlying their analysis methods. This course tackled all those techniques, and the instructors and speakers have wide experience working with that kind of data. That’s what initially caught my attention to apply for this course.

DNA Sculpture at CSHL

DNA Sculpture at CSHL

After taking it I have to admit that it was as good as it could get. All the instructors were great; each of them leads their own top-notch research group, and they were really helpful and resourceful. The invited speakers were great as well, showing some of the latest techniques and applications of next-gen sequencing. The attendees came from a wide variety of fields and from all around the world, working in both Academia and private companies, and the wide variety of their study fields (cancer, neurobiology, plant genomics, immunology and more) really assured lots of interesting discussions. Finally I had to mention that even the location of the Cold Spring Harbor Labs was something else, a beautiful environment that let people focus on their research.

NEXTGEN Students and Postdoc Attend Genomic Selection Course in Aarhus, Denmark

Ismail Kayondo, Dunia Pino del Carpio, and Olumide Alabi at Aarhus University

Ismail Kayondo, Dunia Pino del Carpio, and Olumide Alabi at Aarhus University

NEXTGEN Cassava PhD students Olumide Alabi (IITA) and Ismail Kayondo (NaCRRI) and postdoctoral fellow Dunia Pino del Carpio (Cornell) recently attended a week-long course at Aarhus University, Denmark, titled “Statistical Models for Genomic Predictions in Animals and Plants.” Below is Olumide Alabi’s report on the course:

Day 1: Background on genomic selection; classical MAS; basic prediction using GWAS; environmental effects
The course started in the morning with a theoretical background and introduction to the topics stated above. A hands-on exercise on the optimization of breeding plans using phenotypic selection and genomic selection was simulated with varying population sizes and marker densities. In the afternoon, a real dataset was provided to work with, from which we individually ran a simple GWAS model using R and later fitted prediction models from the GWAS result after we had identified significant SNP effects. The last exercise of the day was fitting the GWAS model with environmental effects and comparing prediction models using different cross validation schemes.

  • snp_select = which(gwas_BW_results[,4] < 2.7e-5)
  • lm(dat_train$BW ~factor(dat_train$Sex)+factor(dat_train$Batch)+geno_train$V2)

Lessons: Making conclusions from computing predictions from larger sets of SNPs by different thresholds for p-values in the modeling for predictions using the GWAS results obtained

Day 2: Whole-genome SNP regression model; introduction to single-trait and multi-trait GBLUP; cross‐validation systems
With preliminary theoretical discussions on each of the topics listed above, much time was devoted to hands-on exercises on them. The first exercise of the day was the Random Regression with R-BGLR. It was noted that BGLR does not accept missing data, hence, a replacement with the mean genotype (2p: allele frequency). A DMU R package developed by the Danish group was installed, and we used this to run a multi-trait WGRR and GBLUP. Finally, an exercise cross-validation of varying k-fold schemes was carried out.

Day 3: Making, scaling and interpreting Genomic Relationships matrices; single step GBLUP and scaling G and A
I initially found it difficult to comprehend some aspects of the day 3 topics and exercises; however, the given publication (VanRaden, 2008 and Legarra et al, 2015) and additional explanation by the instructor and interaction with colleagues in the class helped somehow. Time was dedicated to the single step approach for genomic evaluation, compatibility of G and A matrix and the single-step in Rdmu using the pedigree file.

Day 4: Bayesian shrinkage models; Bayesian mixture/variable selection models
There was theoretical explanation on posterior distribution and prior distribution information of parameters used for the modeling. Exercises on Mixture model approach were practiced, comparison of different model approach for GWAS and genomic prediction was part of the exercises for the day (LASSO, Bayes A, Bayes B.) using the BGLR and the Rdmu packages. My personal motivation is to read more on Bayesian statistics.

Day 5: Relationships in data; genomic feature models; usual SNP QC
One of the fascinating lessons of the day for me was the Genetic Feature model using the GBLUP models and the Bayesian approach. You can either use a GBLUP model, building G-matrices for SNPs from one chromosome versus the other chromosomes, or a Bayesian model that directly models 19 different variances for the SNPs in each chromosome.

General comments

Olumide Alabi

Olumide Alabi

  • The lessons of the summer course will be very useful for me in the immediate term, as I will hopefully participate fully alongside Marnin and Uche in the NEXTGEN GS Cycle 3 genomic predictions of the IITA GS program.
  • The attendance of this course has filled the gap pointed out to me during my Comprehensive exam by the panel: “Assuming all the support and the associated institutions in my program are not there, how will I cope to implement GS on my own in terms of the predictions, marker system management…”.
  • Although I cannot claim 100% understanding of all the theories and exercises at once, the interactive nature of the course was of immense help to my comprehension of what I could apply in my current research and future endeavours.
  • The concepts learnt in the course will help me in detailing some of the background concepts of several approaches in my final thesis and publication efforts.
  • Meeting several new persons, the exchange of research efforts, and the adventure of getting around some part of Aarhus city after class in the evening time cannot be overemphasized. Although the course was titled “summer course,” it was cold all through, coupled with the experience of very long day hours and short night darkness (~ 4 hours).

Acknowledgement
I acknowledge the NEXTGEN program management for the capacity-building investment by giving us the opportunity of attending courses that are of relevance to our present research efforts and preparing us for future research endeavours.

Ugandan and Nigerian Scientists Attend CIAT Training in Cali, Colombia

Ugandan and Nigerian scientists attend a training at CIAT in Cali, Colombia

Ugandan and Nigerian scientists attend a training at CIAT in Cali, Colombia

In the framework of the RTB-ENDURE project and in collaboration with the NEXTGEN Cassava Project, Ugandan and Nigerian colleagues from the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organization, IITA, and IIRR are now in Colombia to attend a training organized by CIAT for strengthening the capacities to assess the postharvest physiological deterioration of cassava and the feasibility of adopting technologies for extending the shelf-life of the roots in Uganda.

New Cornell Greenhouse Houses NEXTGEN Cassava Plants

Thanks to Anja Timm and Craig Cramer for a great post about the new greenhouses on Cornell’s campus that house the NEXTGEN Cassava Project’s cassava plants!

Cassava plant photo by Anja Timm

Cassava plants in the new greenhouse.
Photo courtesy of Anja Timm.

From Anja Timm (ait4@cornell.edu), Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES):

“Cornell researchers now have a new, state-of-the-art greenhouse facility available to house tall crops important to New York State growers, such as corn, trellised peas, alfalfa and biofuel grasses.

Part of the Guterman Greenhouse Range east of the School of Veterinary Medicine, the 8,000-square-foot facility is also home to research projects with international impact, such as the cassava breeding project.

Precision environmental controls, 16-foot double-pane glass side walls, and shade- and insulation-curtains in all eight compartments create a highly energy-efficient research environment…”

Read Anja’s full post.