2Blades Foundation Newsletter
Issue 11 | June 2020
2Blades Launches Appeal
to End Potato Late Blight in East Africa
& Improve Farm Families’ Nutrition and Income

Ending the Plant Disease that Caused the Irish Potato Famine

The 2Blades Foundation this week launched an appeal for an East African project that has developed a durable solution for late-blight potato disease, which helped cause the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, leading to the deaths of a million Irish people and at least 100,000 citizens of other nations.

2Blades is a principal sponsor—together with major funding from USAID--of a project that is bringing this historic discovery to market to help fight hunger in East Africa.

Potatoes are the world’s third-most important food crop, producing nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop . Over half the world’s potatoes are grown in developing countries by smallholder or subsistence farmers.

Yet even today, late blight remains one of the most destructive crop diseases globally, affecting more than 7 million acres of cultivated potato and causing an estimated $10 billion in economic losses in developing countries each year.

In Kenya and Uganda , where over 1 million smallholder farmers now grow potatoes, late-blight disease can destroy up to 70 percent of crops.

This is even more urgent now as the COVID-19 pandemic creates unprecedented challenges for food systems in developing nations.

2Blades ‘TALENs’ gene-editing tool
improves disease resistance in food crops

In recent years, genome editing has been used by researchers to develop new food crop varieties that are resistant to crop diseases which for centuries have been hard to handle and reduced farmers’ harvests and incomes , often affecting the nutrition and health of their families and communities. This technique allows scientists to remove genes or otherwise alter a cell’s DNA sequence to modify the function of its individual genes.

The speed and efficiency of the gene-editing process has been improved by new technologies which have allowed a single- or double-stranded break in the genome at a place of the researcher’s choosing, helping to target specific desired (or undesired) traits.

While the best known of these technologies is CRISPR-Cas9 , the 2Blades Foundation was instrumental in helping to develop an earlier and still widely used gene-editing technique called TALEN , which has numerous practical applications in plant science and other biosciences.

The Next Pandemic Could Attack Our Crops
By  Diana Horvath , President of  2Blades Foundation
Guest Commentary for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs

It’s no longer hard to imagine: a highly virulent pathogen spreads through susceptible individuals over ever-larger areas, aided by global travel and trade, threatening the lives of millions of people. 
Except this scenario is not about a disease that affects people. Rather, it will attack our food crops, with very high costs in lives and treasure. 
COVID-19 has demonstrated the damage that results from an unchecked disease spreading throughout our highly connected world. But most people are unaware that plants also succumb to infectious diseases, reducing global crop yields by 15 percent or more, and costing at least $ 220 billion every year .
While many plant diseases cause only minor damage or are controlled with agrochemicals, there are unmanaged diseases that cause 70-80 percent losses or even failure of an entire crop. 

Will Buswell (re)Joins 2Blades!
Back by popular demand, Will Buswell will be part of the 2Blades team again this summer, serving as an Intellectual Property and Communications Intern! 2Blades followers will recall his excellent work as Communications Intern last year. In the intervening time, Will has been working as a consultant in life sciences intellectual property at a UK law firm and attending law school.

Prior to his law conversion, he studied scientific aspects of plant disease in a number of settings, most recently completing a PhD at the P3 Centre for Plant Production and Protection at the University of Sheffield working in the lab of Prof. Jurriaan Ton to identify and characterize novel mechanisms of acquired immunity against downy mildew. In future, Will is interested in using intellectual property and innovative commercial partnerships to deliver equitable and sustainable solutions to crop disease.

Welcome back, Will!
About 2Blades

The 2Blades Foundation, based in Evanston, Illinois, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to the discovery, advancement, and delivery of durable disease resistance in crops. 2Blades establishes and manages development programs addressing significant unsolved crop disease problems, working in collaboration with leading research institutions around the world and at the 2Blades Group in The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, UK. 2Blades manages a portfolio of specific traits and enabling technologies that it implements in its own programs and out-licenses for broad use.
Discovering, advancing, and delivering durable genetic resistance to crop disease