Research Article: The Symptom and Genetic Diversity of Cassava Brown Streak Viruses Infecting Cassava in East Africa

Date Published: February 21, 2012

Publisher: Hindawi Publishing Corporation

Author(s): I. U. Mohammed, M. M. Abarshi, B. Muli, R. J. Hillocks, M. N. Maruthi.


The genetic and symptom diversity of six virus isolates causing cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) in the endemic (Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania) and the recently affected epidemic areas (Uganda) of eastern Africa was studied. Five cassava varieties; Albert, Colombian, Ebwanateraka, TMS60444 (all susceptible) and Kiroba (tolerant) were graft inoculated with each isolate. Based on a number of parameters including the severity of leaf and root symptoms, and the extent of virus transmission by grafting, the viruses were classified as either severe or relatively mild. These results were further confirmed by the mechanical inoculation of 13 herbaceous hosts in which the virulent isolates caused plant death in Nicotiana clevelandii and N. benthamiana whereas the milder isolates did not. Phylogenetic analysis of complete coat protein gene sequences of these isolates together with sequences obtained from 14 other field-collected samples from Kenya and Zanzibar, and reference sequences grouped them into two distinct clusters, representing the two species of cassava brown streak viruses. Put together, these results did not suggest the association of a hypervirulent form of the virus with the current CBSD epidemic in Uganda. Identification of the severe and milder isolates, however, has further implications for disease management and quarantine requirements.

Partial Text

Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) is endemic in areas along the Indian Ocean coast of eastern Africa, from the northeastern border of Kenya across the Tanzanian border down as far as the Zambezi River in Mozambique, and it was widespread around the shore of Lake Malawi. In the endemic areas, CBSD was confined to altitudes below 1,000 metres above sea level [1–3]. More recently, CBSD has been reported at midaltitude levels (1200–1500 meters above sea levels) in Democratic Republic Congo [4], Uganda [5], and the Lake zone areas of Tanzania [6, 7], which were not considered to be at risk by the disease previously. This is a serious concern because the disease incidences of up to 100% were recorded [8], and in sensitive varieties the disease causes rotting of tubers, reducing both the quality and quantity of tubers available for consumption [1, 2, 9]. A moderate infection by CBSD (10–30% damage to root surface area) decreases the market value of cassava tubers drastically by 90%, fetching under US $5 per tonne, as opposed to $55 for fresh healthy cassava root [10]. Severely diseased roots are completely destroyed and unfit for market or family use. Recent estimates indicate that CBSD causes economic losses of up to $100 million annually to the African farmer [11] and these are probably an underestimate, as the disease has since spread into new areas [5, 7]. The disease is now considered to be the most important cause of food insecurity in the coastal and lake zone areas of eastern Africa.

Until recently, research on CBSD diversity/severity has largely been restricted to observations in the field on cassava plants of different age, genetic makeup, and grown in different agroecological zones with varying environmental conditions and possibly infected with different virus strains, all of which can independently or in combination influence symptom development. This made the comparison of the field observations between the various studies particularly difficult and the question of whether a severe form of CBSD is associated with the latest epidemic in Uganda has remained unanswered. Inoculation of herbaceous host plants by various researchers provided somewhat uniform conditions for symptom diversity studies [29] but until recently no such comparison has been made with isolates from the coastal endemic and inland epidemic areas involving the two different species of CBSVs [15, 16]. It was particularly difficult to conclude whether the severe CBSD symptoms observed in the fields of coastal Mozambique and Tanzania [9], for example, or the relatively milder leaf symptoms seen in Uganda (severity score of 2.0, [5]) were due to the effect of virus isolate or the tolerance/susceptibility of the cassava varieties being grown in those regions. In order to answer these questions, experiments were carried out in controlled environmental conditions in a glasshouse using a standard range of CBSD isolates from both the endemic and epidemic regions to determine the virulence of the isolates. This was particularly relevant to understand if the new outbreaks of CBSD at high altitudes in Uganda and the lake zone areas of Tanzania were due to the prevalence of a severe form of the virus, similar to those observed during the course of the CMD pandemic in Uganda in the early 1990s.