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Work of the Centre

“Molecular characterization of geminiviruses affecting vegetables and other crops”

Principal Investigators – Dr. Marcia Roye, Dr. Wayne McLaughlin

To date, ten whitefly-transmitted geminiviruses from Jamaica have been characterized including geminiviruses infecting crops such as, tomatoes, pepper and cabbage. It was found that the geminiviruses infecting crops and weeds from Jamaica are distinct and there is one common weed virus that also infects cabbage. Projects will continue to look for new viruses infecting crops and weeds and to fully characterise the geminiviruses which have been, so far, partially characteris

“Molecular investigations of recombination among crop- and weed-infecting geminiviruses from Jamaica”

Principal Investigators – Dr. Marcia Roye, Dr. Wayne McLaughlin

The aim is to find the evolution of geminiviruses in Jamaica. Investigations reveal that the weed virus which infects cabbage has recombined with the cabbage infecting virus resulting in three distinct geminiviruses infecting the cabbage. Our project will further investigate the recombination among the viruses infecting cabbage.

“Bioengineering Caribbean Yams: Production of high yielding yam planting materials for farmers’ use”

Principal Investigators: Prof. Helen Asemota and Dr. Andrew Wheatley

The project is aimed at using in vitro techniques and gene technology to identify and produce high yielding yam planting materials for commercial purposes. To date the group has completed the preliminary work including initiation, establishment, multiplication and acclimatization of a number of yam cultivars. Extraction and determination of the starch content of the different Jamaican yams and related enzymes associated with metabolism, the analysis of some biochemical transformation associated with the transfer of three varieties of yams from the field to in vitro culture and the initial screening for gene(s) responsible for the breaking of dormancy (sprouting) and high yield in yams. Some of our future plans are to transfer acclimatized plants to the field to analyze performance and yield capabilities, conduct biometric analyses on the feasibility of the process and complete characterization of yam starches and determination of the digestibility of the different yam starches.

“Molecular characterization of viruses affecting fruit and vegetable crops" 

Principal Investigator – Prof. Paula Tennant

The primary objective of the research is to perform comprehensive assessments of the genetic diversity and structure of virus populations affecting economically important fruit and vegetable crops.  Work with papaya ringspot virus has shown that the virus collected over a five year period share lower similarities, and appear to be changing at rates different than those reported in other coutnries, presumably because of introductions, movement of plant materials and geographical isolation.  Similar investigations have been initiated with viruses and viroids affecting citrus and curcurbit crops such as pumpkin.  Such studies on the genetic diversity and evolutionary history of plant viruses are critical to understanding the ecology and epidemiology of virus pathogens.  The studies enable the development of better ways of managing or preventing outbreaks, lessening the effects of resistance breaking, and easing the economic consequences of virus diseases. 

 “Medicinal Plants Research”

Principal Investigator – Dr. Sylvia Mitchell

This project is aimed at obtaining the sustainable economic utilization of medicinal plants growing in Jamaica. To date, micropropation protocols were developed for a number of plants, including:

  • Neem (Azadirachta indica),
  • Aloe (Aloe vera),
  • Ginger (Zingiber officianle),
  • turmeric (Curcuma longa),
  • pepper elder (Piper amalago),
  • sarsaparilla (Smilax regelii),
  • chainy root (Smilax balbisiana),
  • fever grass (Cymbopongon citratus),
  • spirit weed (Eryngium foetidum),
  • pineapple (Ananas comosus),
  • bottle brush (Callistemon viminalis),
  • yam (Dioscorea spp.).

Somatic embryogenesis protocols were also developed for ackee (Blighia sapida) and guinea hen weed (Petiveria alliacea).  

After the active ingredient in some plants were determined, the research team formulated a number of environmentally friendly and potent medicinal products such as bio-pesticides, soaps, disinfectants and shampoos from neem and garlic.  Additonally, an ex-vitro medicinal plant germplasm collection was established and a new innovative machine for drying medicinal plants, herbs and spices and for the production of biochar (a new soil ameliorant) was designed and manufactured.

The aim of this research group is to harness the potential of Jamaica's natural plant biodiversity for the wise and sustainable utilization of its native plant biodiversity for food, herbs, spices, medicine, tonics, aromotherapy, furniture, and biofuels to enhance  health and wealth throughout Jamaica. This will be done through the judicious use of biotechnology.

 Current Grants

  • The Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) awarded a research grant of USD30,000.00 to the Biotechnology Centre. The fund, which was approved in September 2012, will support investigations on the molecular characterization of sweet potato begomiviruses in Jamaica. The application was submitted by Prof. Paula Tennant and Dr. Marcia Roye with Prof. Paula Tennant as the Principal Investigator.


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