In the heart of Africa, where the promise of abundant crops and food security is a cherished dream, an astonishing breakthrough has emerged, a discovery that could reshape the future of agriculture on the continent. A group of scientists, driven by the desire to transform crop growth, have unearthed a hidden treasure within the humble yam, plant-growth promoting bacteria (PGPB).
This remarkable discovery is the culmination of a harmonious partnership between the brilliant researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and their counterparts from the Tokyo University of Agriculture, also known as Tokyo NODAI. The discovery was unfolded during the “Knowledge Café Seminar” held at the IITA, a gathering that would stimulate the idea of ‘Using bacteria from yam to enhance crop production in Africa’. The café, designed to be a hub of knowledge and innovative ideas, was a platform where brilliance flourished according to the IITA Communication Office Head, Katherine Lopez. Among the speakers, the IITA Yam Agronomist, Ryo Matsumotoi engaged the audience with the story of their partnership, which is a journey that began in 2012 and has been renewed for another three-year chapter.
At the centre of this seminar are four representatives from Tokyo NODAI, including two IITA alumni, Prof. Hironobu Shiwachi and Prof. Hidehiko Kikuno, alongside Yuh Shiwa and Kosuke Yamamoto. These luminaries unveiled insights that could change the way we cultivate yams and, perhaps, redefine agriculture itself. Shiwachi delved into the world of “Plant growth promoting bacteria (PGPB) in yams” by unraveling the mysteries hidden beneath the earth’s surface. Meanwhile, Kikuno explored “The effect of PGPB inoculation on the growth of water yam and upland rice” while offering a glimpse into a future where microbes, not chemicals, fuel crop prosperity.
The inherent growth-promoting prowess of yams has captured the imagination of scientists worldwide. The potential of Plant Growth Promoting Bacteria (PGPB) has emerged as an eco-friendly alternative to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, not just in the lush landscapes of Africa, but also in the hallowed traditions of Japan, where yams hold a sacred place. This dedicated research team embarked on a six-day metagenomics analysis at IITA, venturing into the meticulous preparation of samples, the extraction of DNA, the creation of libraries, the artistry of nanopore sequencing, and the deciphering of comprehensive data. The revelation? Nanopore sequencing, like a powerful lens, provided unprecedented clarity.
But the story did not end there. The presentations offered a tantalising glimpse into a world where the composition of microbiota held the keys to bountiful harvests, as initial findings hinted at a delicate balance in water yam growth, whether nurtured by chemical fertilisation or left to nature’s course. Yet, the team’s quest for knowledge marches on, with water yam poised to usher in a new era of mechanisation, thanks to its partnership with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. In the heartlands of Africa and the scientific corridors of Tokyo NODAI, a remarkable journey of discovery unfolds with yams and the ingenious PGPB by their side, these scientists pave the way for a future where the soil is enriched, crops flourish, and a bountiful harvest promises to transform lives across Africa.