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  • I get out of bed for two reasons.

  • One, small-scale family farmers need more food.

  • It's crazy that in 2019 farmers that feed us are hungry.

  • And two, science needs to be more diverse and inclusive.

  • If we're going to solve the toughest challenges on the planet,

  • like food insecurity for the millions living in extreme poverty,

  • it's going to take all of us.

  • I want to use the latest technology

  • with the most diverse and inclusive teams on the planet

  • to help farmers have more food.

  • I'm a computational biologist.

  • I know -- what is that and how is it going to help end hunger?

  • Basically, I like computers and biology

  • and somehow, putting that together is a job.

  • (Laughter)

  • I don't have a story

  • of wanting to be a biologist from a young age.

  • The truth is, I played basketball in college.

  • And part of my financial aid package was I needed a work-study job.

  • So one random day,

  • I wandered to the nearest building to my dorm room.

  • And it just so happens it was the biology building.

  • I went inside and looked at the job board.

  • Yes, this is pre-the-internet.

  • And I saw a three-by-five card

  • advertising a job to work in the herbarium.

  • I quickly took down the number,

  • because it said "flexible hours,"

  • and I needed that to work around my basketball schedule.

  • I ran to the library to figure out what an herbarium was.

  • (Laughter)

  • And it turns out

  • an herbarium is where they store dead, dried plants.

  • I was lucky to land the job.

  • So my first scientific job

  • was gluing dead plants onto paper for hours on end.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's so glamorous.

  • This is how I became a computational biologist.

  • During that time,

  • genomics and computing were coming of age.

  • And I went on to do my masters

  • combining biology and computers.

  • During that time,

  • I worked at Los Alamos National Lab

  • in the theoretical biology and biophysics group.

  • And it was there I had my first encounter with the supercomputer,

  • and my mind was blown.

  • With the power of supercomputing,

  • which is basically thousands of connected PCs on steroids,

  • we were able to uncover the complexities of influenza and hepatitis C.

  • And it was during this time that I saw the power

  • of using computers and biology combined, for humanity.

  • And I wanted this to be my career path.

  • So, since 1999,

  • I've spent the majority of my scientific career

  • in very high-tech labs,

  • surrounded by really expensive equipment.

  • So many ask me

  • how and why do I work for farmers in Africa.

  • Well, because of my computing skills,

  • in 2013, a team of East African scientists

  • asked me to join the team in the plight to save cassava.

  • Cassava is a plant whose leaves and roots feed 800 million people globally.

  • And 500 million in East Africa.

  • So that's nearly a billion people

  • relying on this plant for their daily calories.

  • If a small-scale family farmer has enough cassava,

  • she can feed her family

  • and she can sell it at the market for important things like school fees,

  • medical expenses and savings.

  • But cassava is under attack in Africa.

  • Whiteflies and viruses are devastating cassava.

  • Whiteflies are tiny insects

  • that feed on the leaves of over 600 plants.

  • They are bad news.

  • There are many species;

  • they become pesticide resistant;

  • and they transmit hundreds of plant viruses

  • that cause cassava brown streak disease

  • and cassava mosaic disease.

  • This completely kills the plant.

  • And if there's no cassava,

  • there's no food or income for millions of people.

  • It took me one trip to Tanzania

  • to realize that these women need some help.

  • These amazing, strong, small-scale family farmers,

  • the majority women,

  • are doing it rough.

  • They don't have enough food to feed their families,

  • and it's a real crisis.

  • What happens is

  • they go out and plant fields of cassava when the rains come.

  • Nine months later,

  • there's nothing, because of these pests and pathogens.

  • And I thought to myself,

  • how in the world can farmers be hungry?

  • So I decided to spend some time on the ground

  • with the farmers and the scientists

  • to see if I had any skills that could be helpful.

  • The situation on the ground is shocking.

  • The whiteflies have destroyed the leaves that are eaten for protein,

  • and the viruses have destroyed the roots that are eaten for starch.

  • An entire growing season will pass,

  • and the farmer will lose an entire year of income and food,

  • and the family will suffer a long hunger season.

  • This is completely preventable.

  • If the farmer knew

  • what variety of cassava to plant in her field,

  • that was resistant to those viruses and pathogens,

  • they would have more food.

  • We have all the technology we need,

  • but the knowledge and the resources

  • are not equally distributed around the globe.

  • So what I mean specifically is,

  • the older genomic technologies

  • that have been required to uncover the complexities

  • in these pests and pathogens --

  • these technologies were not made for sub-Saharan Africa.

  • They cost upwards of a million dollars;

  • they require constant power

  • and specialized human capacity.

  • These machines are few and far between on the continent,

  • which is leaving many scientists battling on the front lines no choice

  • but to send the samples overseas.

  • And when you send the samples overseas,

  • samples degrade, it costs a lot of money,

  • and trying to get the data back over weak internet

  • is nearly impossible.

  • So sometimes it can take six months to get the results back to the farmer.

  • And by then, it's too late.

  • The crop is already gone,

  • which results in further poverty and more hunger.

  • We knew we could fix this.

  • In 2017,

  • we had heard of this handheld, portable DNA sequencer

  • called an Oxford Nanopore MinION.

  • This was being used in West Africa to fight Ebola.

  • So we thought:

  • Why can't we use this in East Africa to help farmers?

  • So, what we did was we set out to do that.

  • At the time, the technology was very new,

  • and many doubted we could replicate this on the farm.

  • When we set out to do this,

  • one of our "collaborators" in the UK

  • told us that we would never get that to work in East Africa,

  • let alone on the farm.

  • So we accepted the challenge.

  • This person even went so far as to bet us two of the best bottles of champagne

  • that we would never get that to work.

  • Two words:

  • pay up.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Pay up, because we did it.

  • We took the entire high-tech molecular lab

  • to the farmers of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda,

  • and we called it Tree Lab.

  • So what did we do?

  • Well, first of all, we gave ourselves a team name --

  • it's called the Cassava Virus Action Project.

  • We made a website,

  • we gathered support from the genomics and computing communities,

  • and away we went to the farmers.

  • Everything that we need for our Tree Lab

  • is being carried by the team here.

  • All of the molecular and computational requirements needed

  • to diagnose sick plants is there.

  • And it's actually all on this stage here as well.

  • We figured if we could get the data closer to the problem,

  • and closer to the farmer,

  • the quicker we could tell her what was wrong with her plant.

  • And not only tell her what was wrong --

  • give her the solution.

  • And the solution is,

  • burn the field and plant varieties

  • that are resistant to the pests and pathogens she has in her field.

  • So the first thing that we did was we had to do a DNA extraction.

  • And we used this machine here.

  • It's called a PDQeX,

  • which stands for "Pretty Damn Quick Extraction."

  • (Laughter)

  • I know.

  • My friend Joe is really cool.

  • One of the biggest challenges in doing a DNA extraction

  • is it usually requires very expensive equipment,

  • and takes hours.

  • But with this machine,

  • we've been able to do it in 20 minutes,

  • at a fraction of the cost.

  • And this runs off of a motorcycle battery.

  • From there, we take the DNA extraction and prepare it into a library,

  • getting it ready to load on

  • to this portable, handheld genomic sequencer,

  • which is here,

  • and then we plug this into a mini supercomputer,

  • which is called a MinIT.

  • And both of these things are plugged into a portable battery pack.

  • So we were able to eliminate

  • the requirements of main power and internet,

  • which are two very limiting factors on a small-scale family farm.

  • Analyzing the data quickly can also be a problem.

  • But this is where me being a computational biologist came in handy.

  • All that gluing of dead plants,

  • and all that measuring,

  • and all that computing

  • finally came in handy in a real-world, real-time way.

  • I was able to make customized databases

  • and we were able to give the farmers results in three hours

  • versus six months.

  • (Applause)

  • The farmers were overjoyed.

  • So how do we know that we're having impact?

  • Nine moths after our Tree Lab,

  • Asha went from having zero tons per hectare

  • to 40 tons per hectare.

  • She had enough to feed her family

  • and she was selling it at the market,

  • and she's now building a house for her family.

  • Yeah, so cool.

  • (Applause)

  • So how do we scale Tree Lab?

  • The thing is,

  • farmers are scaled already in Africa.

  • These women work in farmer groups,

  • so helping Asha actually helped 3,000 people in her village,

  • because she shared the results and also the solution.

  • I remember every single farmer I've ever met.

  • Their pain and their joy

  • is engraved in my memories.

  • Our science is for them.

  • Tree Lab is our best attempt to help them become more food secure.

  • I never dreamt

  • that the best science I would ever do in my life

  • would be on that blanket in East Africa,

  • with the highest-tech genomic gadgets.

  • But our team did dream

  • that we could give farmers answers in three hours versus six months,

  • and then we did it.

  • Because that's the power of diversity and inclusion in science.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • (Cheers)

I get out of bed for two reasons.

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B1 US TED cassava africa farmer plant lab

【TED】Laura Boykin: How we're using DNA tech to help farmers fight crop diseases (How we're using DNA tech to help farmers fight crop diseases | Laura Boykin)

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    林宜悉 posted on 2019/11/04
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