2Blades Foundation Newsletter
Issue 9 | August 2019
Telling the stories behind our fight against crop disease
Diana Horvath

At 2Blades, our efforts against major unsolved crop diseases are defined by the scientific progress we harness to advance more resilient crops into the hands of growers. We focus a great deal on data collection in the lab and economic impacts on the farm, but of course people are at the heart of the work. It's people who suffer the consequences of lost harvests every day and people who drive the efforts to innovate and overcome these challenges.

In this newsletter we offer a glimpse into the more personal side of crop disease by sharing the voices of researchers and farmers and the stories of their ambitions, frustrations, setbacks and successes.

Crop disease stories from the front line
2Blades staffers traveled to Bungoma County in Western Kenya, together with a film crew from What Took You So Long (WTYSL). Visiting smallholder farmers, agrodealers, and agricultural researchers, they heard first-hand about the significant contribution of smallholders to local food security and the major challenges posed by crop diseases.

Conversations with four smallholder farmers, Rose Kaunda, Desmond Misiko, Steven Kasamani and Anthony Nyongesa (below), form the basis of a video series that tells the story of crop disease from the perspective of those on the front line of agriculture. The farmers speak of the transformative effect of reliable crop production on their families' lives and also the devastating consequences of crop disease. Watch the videos here .
Kenyan smallholder farmers (Clockwise from top left):
 Anthony Nyongesa, Desmond Misiko, Rose Kaunda and Steven Kasamani.
"Given the chance I would use better seeds over chemicals to prevent disease"

Anthony Nyongesa
I (don't) try to live on science alone

The 2Blades research group, our collaborators around the world, and members of our Scientific Advisory Board have all contributed to significant scientific insights in the molecular basis of plant-pathogen interactions. This progress is recognized and discussed in terms of its critical advancement of our understanding of crop disease. However, it's important to recognize that behind this work is a group of highly motivated, hard working people driven by a desire to find solutions that enhance food security around the world.

In a series of '5 minutes with...' interviews, we've been asking our scientific community to share insights into their motivations and their lives inside and outside the lab. Read more here .
"Putting the puzzle together, this is what excites me most. You never take it for granted, because it's always different and always a challenge"
Dr. Cintia Kawashima, 2Blades Group, The Sainsbury Laboratory
2Blades-funded gene-editing project achieves milestone in wheat improvement.

In addition to our work on tackling crop diseases, 2Blades is dedicated to developing and sharing enabling technologies that allow others to follow in our footsteps. For example, we have fostered the development and commercialization of the TALENs gene-editing platform, with tiered, non-exclusive license access that has ensured that a broad diversity of users have access to this revolutionary technology for plant science.

Recently, a 2Blades-supported team headed up by Dr. Mick Ayliffe (CSIRO, Australia) reported on the use of TALENs to edit genes in wheat. Mick's team worked with TAL Code co-discoverer, Prof. Thomas Lahaye, at the University of Tubingen, Germany. They achieved highly efficient (up to 85%) and heritable editing of the challenging hexaploid wheat genome. Read the paper here .
Crop disease in the headlines

Researchers reveal plant defense toolkit and insights for fighting crop diseases

An international team of scientists have now catalogued the array of surveillance tools that plants use to detect disease-causing microbes across an entire species with important implications for the management of dangerous crop diseases which represent significant threats to food security. The results of this 2Blades and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation supported project were recently published in the journal Cell: link to paper , link to press release

Fungal disease and climate change spell trouble for bananas

Climate change and crop disease have made for a deadly combination, according to a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B . Researchers at the University of Exeter found that the risk of banana crops becoming infected by the Black Sigakota fungus ( M. fijiensis ), which decimates banana yields throughout the tropics, increased by 44% as a result of climate change. Since banana forms a crucial part of the diet of around 400m people around the world and climate change is set to gather pace in the coming years, it is vital to step up efforts to find a solution to this disease.

New Blades!

Dr. Cynara Romero

Dr Cynara Romero joined the 2Blades group in 2019 to work on the identification of new genetic sources of resistance against Asian Soybean Rust. This topic was already familiar to her from her time as an intern at the National Center of Soybean Research (EMBRAPA-Soybean, Brazil) during her MSc studies in Genetics and Molecular Biology. After obtaining her MSc degree she was awarded a PhD scholarship to join the Plant Breeding Laboratory at Wageningen University and Research. The main focus of her PhD was to investigate the genetic factors responsible for the specificity of the (non)-host status in barley to powdery mildews of cereals and grasses.

James Houghton
James Houghton joined the 2Blades group in 2019 to work on both the bacterial and plant areas of the group’s resistance gene research. He acts as a technician and research support specialist, by preparing samples and conducting high-throughput screening tests to help drive the team’s research forward. Previously, Mr. Houghton graduated with an MChem (Hons) from the University of East Anglia in July 2018. His dissertation investigated how quadruplet codons can be incorporated into DNA/RNA fragments in E. coli , to generate distinct sites for insertion of non-natural amino acids into synthesised antibody fragment proteins. 
Dr. Kamil Witek
Dr Kamil Witek joined the 2Blades Group in 2019, to lead our efforts in using natural plant diversity and state-of-the-art technologies to develop durable genetic resistance to devastating corn diseases. Before joining the 2Blades group, he spent nine years as a post-doctoral researcher in Prof. Jonathan Jones’ group at The Sainsbury Laboratory. In Prof. Jones’ group, he created germplasm collections and developed novel techniques to clone a variety of functional plant immune receptors. Dr Witek was awarded his PhD by Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics PAS in Poland, where he studied interactions between potato and major viral pathogens. 
Upcoming Events
Connect with 2Blades at these upcoming events:

Sept 17 th -19 th Chicago, IL

Nov 4 th - 5 th Raleigh, NC

Nov 12 th -15 th Montevideo, Uruguay
Discovering, advancing, and delivering durable genetic resistance to crop disease