A new study from scientists with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) in Kenya has revealed key information about the genetic basis of maize lethal necrosis (MLN), a disease that has been wreaking havoc on maize crops in eastern Africa since its discovery in the region in 2011.
Maize is the main staple food crop in sub-Saharan Africa and is cultivated on more than 35 million hectares of rain-fed agricultural land, providing sustenance to millions. The MLN disease, caused by a combination of the maize chlorotic mottle virus (MCMV) and sugarcane mosaic virus (SCMV), causes irreversible damage that kills maize plants before they can grow and produce grain. Yield losses from infected fields in Kenya range from 30-100 percent, depending on the stage of disease infection and the prevailing environmental conditions. Such losses dramatically increase the risk of food insecurity in the region and weaken the ability of smallholder farmers to feed their families.