Modelling and genomics resources to enhance exploitation of the sustainable and diverse Ethiopian starch crop Enset and support livelihoods

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Department Name: Natural Capital and Plant Health

Abstract

Enset is a large perennial herbaceous plant similar in form to the related banana. It is distributed across central, eastern and southern Africa, a crop in the banana (Musaceae) family, and currently provides a food source for ~20 million people in Ethiopia alone via its corm and stem base supplying dietary starch. It also supplies fibres, medicines, animal fodder, a key food source for bees, is culturally significant and stabilises soils.

Enset is potentially very important as a climate-smart crop for the future because of its apparent ability to withstand long periods (>5 years) of drought. However, little is currently known about its biology, including the genetic variation of both wild and cultivated forms, its fruiting biology, soil fungal associations or ability to withstand pests and diseases. We seek to promote enset as a source of dietary starch build collaborative UK/African research strengths in four principal ways:

1) Gathering a range of data from across its distribution in Ethiopia including the physical traits of enset alongside information about the local climate and soil in each area sampled and data from farmer interviews. This will then be used to create a data resource via computer models that will generate the understanding to underpin breeding, food security and supply of products and enhanced government policy in this crop.

2) Studying enset in the field so that its flowering, fruiting and seed production is fully understood to assist in developing a breeding programme.

3) Unravelling the genome of the banana family, and especially enset, to understand overall diversity patterns and discovering the genes associated desirable characteristics such as control of flowering, disease resistance and root and corm development.

4) Surveying the occurrence of disease-causing organisms in the field to discover non-susceptible populations and varieties for genetic study and conservation at in-country seed banks and living plant collections with those displaying other useful traits.

These research activities will help improve security of food supply and help to plan for and breed varieties that can withstand climate change and disease. They will prevent enset being supplanted by a global crop such as maize, reducing the diversity of both agriculture and diets. It will be protected as a source of pharmaceutical products and potentially could be more widely grown in Africa as a source of starch for food, biofuel or industry. It is already a low input crop in terms of fertilisers and pesticides and research can make it lower still. We also plan to unlock the value of wild forms as sources of key traits and the genes that underpin them for breeding into cultivated plants such as drought resistance or formation of suckers so plants can be divided vegetatively. The research we plan to undertake helps the UK and the global community to meet its obligations under the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Most importantly, the project will support improvement of people's standards of living within five years by providing disease free planting material through tissue culture methods and methods to identify (and therefore help treat) diseases or remove diseased plants.

Technical Summary

Enset is a large perennial herbaceous plant similar to the related banana distributed across central, eastern and southern Africa. Despite its widespread distribution in Africa it has only been domesticated in Ethiopia with hundreds of landraces of varieties found in diverse climatic and agroecological systems providing multiple ecosystem services. Despite the current and potential importance of enset, relatively little is known about its biology. We aim to develop the resources needed to provide the biodiversity science and fill critical knowledge gaps to enable the exploitation of enset diversity as a resilient climate-smart crop of the future.

In order to do so we will undertake reseach in four areas. 1) Developing a multi-dimensional, multifunctional, baseline resource for enset cultivation. This will combine morphological trait, genetic diversity and pest and pathogen occurrence data with farmer interview and soil and climate data using proven, state-of-the-art species distribution model (SDM) methodologies into an electronic resource. 2) Investigating flowering phenology and development, morphology, pollination mechanisms and seed germination biology to enable conservation and breeding 3) Realising the potential of the genetic diversity of cultivated and wild enset using genetic markers and genotyping by sequencing approaches using comparative analysis with banana, identifying genes associated with developmental processes of flowering, starch storage, and disease resistance 4) Determining the resilience of enset to pests and pathogens via field surveys supported by lab-based and molecular diagnostics.

The project will answer fundamental questions about the diversity and biology of enset in order to address some of the major challenges facing the crop in near and longer term in biological, societal and policy terms, while achieving international-quality research excellence alongside training, partnership and capacity building and knowledge transfer.

Planned Impact

Impact in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is an African LDC ranked at 185/194 on GDP per capita by the United Nations, with over 30% of the population earning less than $1.25 per day. Our research will improve its food security and nutrition, and secure availability of enset for the future, directly benefitting ~20M people in Ethiopia for whom enset is currently a staple starch source and provider of multiple ecosystem services. Enset has the potential to help many other LDCs/LMICs in Africa. The project seeks to progress UN SDG2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture) and SDG15 (use terrestrial ecosystems sustainably/halt biodiversity loss) and to contribute to SDG1 (End poverty), SDG3 (Ensure healthy lives) and SDG13 (Combat climate change).

Development will be made via tissue culture of disease-free, resilient varieties. Their provision to farmers in Ethiopia will make a measurable difference to livelihood indicators within five years. Protocols for propagation by local cooperatives will underpin a rural industry. Disease diagnostic tools developed and delivered to key actors via the project website and/or a smartphone app during the project will positively impact livelihoods by allowing evidence-based removal or crop protection. Conservation collections will protect and promote planting of optimal regional and locally appropriate varieties. We will make enhanced agrobiodiversity information on enset available to Ethiopian farmers, NGOs and the Ethiopian Government, enabling dissemination of best practice and more effective decision making through a cross-ministry national strategy for enset in Ethiopia

UK Impact
A novel research partnership between UK and Ethiopian institutes will be developed, mutually enhancing capacity and capability. It will enable all parties to develop their ability to deliver significant research outcomes - and expand their research portfolios - by facilitating access to the genetic diversity involved and developing a consortium that is enabled to undertake a future comprehensive research programme on enset with a view to expansion of its cultivation to other regional Low and/or Middle Income Countries (LMICs) and thus helping tackle the sustainable development goals (SDGs) described above. Kew has a strong track record in working in biodiverse LMIC countries, with seven projects under way with Darwin Initiative funding. A CoI (Leicester) is part of the project with professional expertise in delivering of practical development impact in projects with LMICs. This will model a general approach to the development of a collaborative research effort that can provide an agile response to future threats to global food security and sustainable development.

The project will yield seven high impact, open access publications ranging from bioclimatic modelling, inflorescence development and pollination to gene function of flower, fruit and starch storage development and in stress response. Popular science articles, blogs and external media products on the project will be developed in partnership with the respective press and impact teams. Team members will present the project including via interactive activities at science festivals across the UK. They will include the Kew Science festival. RBG, Kew will play a particular role in engagement with the UK public via its 1.8M visitors per year, tropical greenhouses and learning environment based around tropical plant biology and its role in tackling global challenges.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Video to engage public at Kew Science Festival 
Description A short video shown on a loop via a large screen at the Kew Science festival, showing enset in the agrolandscape in Ethiopia, its propagation, starch extraction and fermentation and enset in Kew's collections. This was a key engagement resource given that 99% of the attendees were unaware of enset in profiling the work funded by BBSRC/GCRF. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Success in enagaging with general public at Kew Science Festival (see separate record). 
URL https://youtu.be/PbyyHhy7w24
 
Description Ethiopia has historically been the world's largest recipient of targeted food aid, yet little food-insecurity has been reported for the southern Ethiopian highlands even during the devastating famines of the 1980s. Enset is the dominant staple of the southern highlands, therefore a key aim in our proposal was to understand the vernacular, spatial and genetic diversity of enset landraces in Ethiopia. We have now recorded >1500 unique landrace names from farm surveys and the literature. We have gathered data showing individual farm have up to 24 unique landraces. Most importantly, genetic data sampling a large proportion of the enset genome shows that almost all sampled landraces have unique genotypes, with diversity seemingly partitioned between regions; we have not discovered that each region has its own set of genotypes. This is important for the long term sustainability of enset cultivation, and has important implications for maintaining food security in Ethiopia via discovery and promotion of landraces with resilient and locally adapted genotypes
In addition, we have found that wild plants appear to be more widespread and abundant than previously believed in and near to the areas of cultivation in western and southwestern Ethiopia. This indicates that access to resilience to stress, pests and diseaseswe expect to be discovered in wild plants for breeding into cultivated germplasm will be feasible.
We have completed a large number of enset seed germination trials, and discovered optimum temperatures, and alternating temperature cycles that deliver high germination success. Our research shows a highly variable seed viability rate from enset landraces, highlighting the need for further work to eventually enable sustainable seed banking of enset diversity.
We have demonstrated ed high concentrations of essential free amino acids in enset tissues, and significant differences in amino acid composition pre- and post-fermentation to form enset-derived food products. Enset is also high in Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Zinc and Magnesium - higher than many locally available cereal and tuber crops. Through our genomic data, we hope to identify genetic pathways for the uptake of these important micronutrients for use in future breeding. Better understanding of nutritional differences across enset landraces will enable better informed breeding, and ultimately improve the nutrition and livelihoods of enset farmers.
Farm surveys have identified several previously reported diseases, but also identified putatively new or undocumented diseases for further evaluation. In general, disease intensity is lower than expected.
Spatial distribution analysis indicates there are several areas suitable for enset where it is not currently cultivated, potentially due to a lack of indigenous knowledge associated with this crop. This suggests there are several opportunities to bring the food security benefits of enset to new communities, and potentially regional ODA countries in the future.
Exploitation Route Our research programme is in the process of making significant amounts of phenotypic, spatial and genetic data available to the enset and agricultural community. We anticipate this will be of significant use in the breeding of enhanced enset varieties, as well as identifying climate tolerant genotypes. Enset may also have the potential to be cultivated in new areas outside of its current range, particularly in the context of climate change over the next century.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Other

URL https://academic.oup.com/aob/advance-article/doi/10.1093/aob/mcy214/5303834
 
Description Enset has traditionally been an underexploited and neglected crop, despite being the staple food for up to 20 million people in Ethiopia. In recent decades other crops have received government support and promotion by local agricultural extension workers. It is suggested that this has led to an erosion of enset diversity in Ethiopia, with important implications for its future resilience to climate change and emerging pests and pathogens. Our research effort, in collaboration with a wide network of local partner universities, institutions and agriculture offices has helped renew research interest on enset in Southern Ethiopia. A key outcome of these is progress towards the establishment of an Enset Center of Excellence in Ethiopia, led by Ethiopian partner organisations. Ethiopia is an African LDC ranked 174/193 on GDP per capita by the UN and 104/119 in the most recent Global Hunger Index, with 28.8% of the population undernourished from 2014-16. The annual costs of malnutrition have been estimated at $4.7 billion, equivalent to 16.5% of GDP, with significant long-term socio-economic consequences. By bringing together disparate and disconnected research efforts on enset, our research has started to catalyse and accelerate enset research, including breeding, genetic and spatial analyses to enable improved landraces and advice for farmers. By improving the future resilience of enset, through development of climate-smart landraces, we are helping safeguard the food security and livelihoods of up to 20 million Ethiopians who depend on enset as a starch staple. This research has enabled progress towards UN SDG2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture), SDG15 (Use terrestrial ecosystems sustainably/halt biodiversity loss) with SDG17 (Partnerships for the goals) in the context of Ethiopia. It will also contribute to SDG1 (End poverty), SDG3 (Ensure healthy lives) and SDG13 (Combat climate change) there. We seek that project outcomes should also be applied to help meet these SDGs in novel regions and nations where are models indicate that it can be a productive and resilient crop. Our project has made considerable effort to gather and disseminate appropriate indigenous knowledge, led by Ethiopian partners, from both male and female farmers, both of which have unique perspectives and traditional knowledge and roles.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

 
Description Enhancing enset agriculture with mobile agri-data, knowledge interchange and climate adapted genotypes to support the Enset Center of Excellence
Amount £59,678 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/S018980/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 02/2020
 
Description GCRF Agri-systems research to enhance livelihoods in developing countries
Amount £1,215,867 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2019 
End 04/2021
 
Title Tandem and simple sequence repeats database 
Description Database of enset simple sequence repeat targets, generated in silico. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We anticipate downstream impacts 
URL http://www.enset-project.org/EnTrs@base.html
 
Title Transcription factor database 
Description Database of putative enset transcription factors mined in silico from published genomes. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We anticipate downstream impacts 
URL http://www.enset-project.org/EnTrf@base.html
 
Description Kew Collaboration with the Southern Agricultural Research Institute 
Organisation Southern Agricultural Research Institute (SARI)
Country Ethiopia 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Our research team has contributed reagents and advice to support a tissue culture programme for enset.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners have led development of tissue culture protocols for enset.
Impact https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcy214
Start Year 2018
 
Description Kew collaboration with Hawassa University 
Organisation Hawassa University
Country Ethiopia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Hawassa University has provided extensive local support in Sidama zone, Ethiopia, including translators, organising vehicles and field assistants.
Collaborator Contribution Kew has provided training through long-term collaborative fieldwork, collaborative paper writing and a public lecture to Hawassa University stuff. A Kew PDRA has also assisted with the co-supervision of two Hawassa MSc students, conduing research on Enset
Impact https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcy214
Start Year 2017
 
Description Kew collaboration with Wolkite University 
Organisation Wolkite University
PI Contribution Kew has provided training through long-term collaborative fieldwork, collaborative paper writing and a public lecture to Wolkite University stuff.
Collaborator Contribution Wolkite University has provided extensive local support in Gurage zone, Ethiopia, including translators, organising vehicles and field assistants. Wolkite University also gave access to Yerefezy enset research station and their germplasm collection located there.
Impact https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcy214
Start Year 2017
 
Description Kew partnership with Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia 
Organisation Addis Ababa University
Country Ethiopia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As part of our collaboration we have contributed equipment (laptops, GPS units, measuring tools) and working together on fieldwork to provide training. We have provided access to Kew laboratory facilities to PhD student Solomon Tamrat.
Collaborator Contribution As part of our collaboration, Professor Sebsebe Demissew (ForMemRS) has visited Kew on three occasions to discuss progress on our research, to provide input on our analysis and help develop publications and follow on grant applications. Addis Ababa University have also contributed the research time of two MSc students and one PhD student to collaborate on the project. Addis Ababa University is also our key Ethiopian partner organisation. In this role, they have overseen our network of collaborating organisations including Wolkite University, Hawassa University, the Southern Agricultural Research Institute and the Ethiopian Biodiversity Insititute.
Impact https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcy214
Start Year 2017
 
Description Kew partnership with the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute 
Organisation Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute
PI Contribution Kew has contributed research on enset seed and germination biology to our joint collaboration
Collaborator Contribution The Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute has supported Kew in all aspects of material transfer and export of enset tissue for DNA analysis.
Impact https://academic.oup.com/aob/advance-article/doi/10.1093/aob/mcy214/5303834
Start Year 2017
 
Description 2017 RBG, Kew Science Festivals 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The GCRF Enset project and BBSRC funding of it was profiled to the general public at the two RBG, Kew Science festivals. Approximately 1200 people at Kew's main site (August 4 - 6) and 550 at Kew's Wakehurst Place site (July 22 and 23) interacted with project team members, viewed a video about enset and living plants, handled RNG, Kew enset collections and took away a trifold leaflet. There was also a bat pollination game for children and a species distribution modelling-based activity (At Wakehurst). On one of the five days cooked enset bread and porridge were also available to sample.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.kew.org/blogs/kew-science/enset-bananas-on-steroids
 
Description Enset project banner, discussion and outreach at monthly University of Leicester Open Days 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Discussion and outreach at monthly University of Leicester Open Days, targeting prospective students and the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL http://www.enset-project.org/index.html
 
Description Enset public-facing website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our Ensete Knowledge Base is a repository of information, sharing knowledge on Ensete (Ethiopian banana, sometimes called false banana). This online resource is built to share knowledge including history, domestication, diversity, cultural practices, cultivation techniques, recent research progress, genomics resources, genetic resources, and molecular information about this plant species.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL http://www.enset-project.org/
 
Description Hawassa enset meeting for the development of an Enset Center of Excellence 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact In September 2018, initially led by Mark Goodwin (University of Leicester), and subsequently by Kew team members, we held a workshop bringing together enset research and policy makers from across Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) universities and SNNPR government. We updated all parties on progress towards the sustainable development of Enset in Ethiopia, and facilitated discussion towards the establishment of an Enset Center of Excellence. Key policy makers from the SNNPR Agricultural Bureau were in attendance and very engaged with our work, expressing strong support and a commitment to continue working together towards policy driven by our science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.enset-project.org/
 
Description Hawassa lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation of the project objectives and findings to date by Dr. James Borrell at WHawassa University entitled "Modelling and genomics resources to enhance Enset in Ethiopia".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.enset-project.org/
 
Description Kew Science Blog - Ethiopia's Tree Against Hunger 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Kew Science blog to introduce enset to a wider audience. Publication timed to coincide with a paper publication in Annals of Botany.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.kew.org/blogs/kew-science/ethiopia-tree-against-hunger
 
Description Kew/Wakehurst Science Festival 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of the Kew/Wakehurst Science Festival, we held an open-air event to talk about the remarkable food-security properties of enset in Ethiopia. This was followed by a demonstration of how to harvest and prepare an enset plant. Children in attendance were able to participate and try scraping pulp from an enset pseudostem.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.enset-project.org/
 
Description Presentation at Welkite University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Presentation of the project objectives and approached by Dr. James Borrell at Welkite Campus, Welkite University entitled "Modelling and genomics resources to enhance Enset in Ethiopia"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Project websites 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Website-based activities profiling the project and its researchers, engaging collaborators and starting to build platform for data dissemination to stakeholders. A preliminary static website to disseminate information about the project (see URL below) will be augmented by the first version of the interactive project website in late March 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL https://www.kew.org/science/projects/modelling-and-genomics-resources-to-enhance-exploitation-of-the...
 
Description Workshops with project stakeholders and Ethiopian partners 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshops in July and October 2017 were used to start the process of engagement with Environment, Agriculture and Science and Technology Ministries to generate a national policy on enset promoting its use as a diverse, resilience, low-input food source. They also engaged Ethiopian partners, in particular Hawassa University (HU), Welkite University (WKU), The Southern Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) and Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute (EBI) in addition to Addis Ababa University AAU), the lead national partner in order to deliver project outcomes and deliver capacity building. MoUs between AAU and EBI, HU and WKU are now in place to drive those collaborations at that with SARI will be signed shortly.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018