“Breeding Cassava” by Nagib Nassar and Rodomiro Ortiz, in Scientific American, May 2010.
To many Americans, cassava root is a stranger in the produce aisle. But for 800 million people around the world, the starchy tuber (also called manioc, tapioca, and yuca) is the main staple of their diets. Globally, it accounts for more calories consumed than any crop besides rice and wheat. Unfortunately for those who subsist on it, it’s not particularly nutritious, containing little protein, vitamins, or minerals. A new and improved cassava could go a long way toward alleviating malnutrition in the developing world, and that’s just what University of Brasília geneticists Nagib Nassar and Rodomiro Ortiz have set out to create.
Cassava originated in Brazil, but in the 16th century Portuguese sailors brought it to Africa, which today produces more than half the world’s supply. From there it spread across tropical Asia as far as Indonesia. It can be fried, boiled, turned into flour, even consumed raw. In some parts of Africa and Asia, people eat the plant’s leaves as well. Yet despite its widespread reach and versatility, the lowly cassava has never attracted much attention from scientists. Average yearly yields are low, leaving plenty of room for improvement.
To read the rest of this article, please consider becoming a WQ subscriber, which allows online access to the current WQ issue as well as archive content. Other access options are below.
Research, browse, and discover more than 35 years of articles, essays, and reviews by preeminent scholars and writers. Our searchable archive of back issues is free for WQ subscribers.