KAUST receives Gates Foundation grant for parasitic weed research

15 November, 2015

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has approved funding of $1.5 million for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) to conduct scientific research towards eradicating a destructive parasitic weed in croplands throughout sub-Saharan African countries.

Commonly known as “witchweed,” the Striga hermonthica weed destroys millions of hectares of crops in sub-Saharan Africa every year by siphoning off valuable water and nutrients. Considered one of the hardest parasitic plants to control, Striga infestation devastates much-needed cereal yields, depriving rural families across the region of much of their livelihood. Solutions for eradicating and combating Striga are greatly needed, particularly for pearl millet.

Dr. Salim Al-Babili, who is leading this effort at KAUST, explained: “Pearl millet is the staple food crop for millions of rural families in semi-arid regions of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Striga can destroy an entire year’s cereal yield, causing billions of dollars in losses every year. Additionally, Striga is becoming more severe due to climate change conditions. This project aims to provide lifesaving Striga control methods to enhance food security in the region and potentially in other parts of the world.”

Building on his expertise gained from his work on golden rice, Al-Babili is teaming up with universities in Burkina Faso, Japan, and the Netherlands, to shed light on the biological compounds in pearl millet involved in the infestation and to identify low-cost methods for reducing and eventually eliminating Striga seed banks in infested soils.​