CBRI/SysGen Seminar – Laura Boykin – 4th November, 2016

Cassava brown streak virus has a rapidly evolving genome: implications for virus speciation, variability, diagnosis and host resistance

Dr Laura Boykin
School of Chemistry and Biochemistry & ARC CoE Plant Energy Biology
The University of Western Australia

Friday 4th November
ESJ King Theatre, Medical Building, The University of Melbourne

Cassava is a major staple food for about 800 million people in the tropics and sub-tropical regions of the world. Production of cassava is significantly hampered by cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), which is caused by Cassava brown streak virus (CBSV) and Ugandan cassava brown streak virus (UCBSV). The disease is suppressing cassava yields in eastern Africa at an alarming rate. Previous studies have documented that CBSV is more devastating than UCBSV because it more readily infects both susceptible and tolerant cassava cultivars, resulting in greater yield losses. Using whole genome sequences from NGS data, we produced the first coalescent-based species tree estimate for CBSV and UCBSV.  This species framework led to the finding that CBSV has a faster rate of evolution when compared with UCBSV. Furthermore, we have discovered that in CBSV, non-synonymous substitutions are more predominant than synonymous substitution and occur across the entire genome. All comparative analyses between CBSV and UCBSV presented here suggest that CBSV may be outsmarting the cassava immune system, thus making it more devastating and harder to control.

Laura Boykin is a computational biologist who uses genomics and supercomputing to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa control whiteflies, which have caused devastation of local cassava crops. Her lab is using genetic data to understand the whitefly’s evolution, Boykin’s research has proven important genetic differences in various whitefly species. Boykin also works to equip African scientists with a greater knowledge of genomics and high-performance computing skills to tackle future insect outbreaks. Boykin completed her PhD in Biology at the University of New Mexico while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics group, and is currently a Senior Research Fellow at University of Western Australia and TED Fellow.  She was invited to present her lab’s research on whiteflies at the United Nations Solution Summit in New York City for the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals to end extreme poverty by 2050. For more info:  www.lauraboykinresearch.com.

Enquiries: Andrew Siebel (asiebel@unimelb.edu.au)