BHEARD scholar studies leguminous virus complex

Every year, pests and diseases destroy anywhere from 10% to 40% of the food crops in Bangladesh – a major threat to the country’s food security.

BHEARD scholar Shimul Das is studying viruses that damage crop yields in the Leguminosae family.
BHEARD scholar Shimul Das is studying viruses that damage crop yields in the Leguminosae family.

Every year, pests and diseases destroy anywhere from 10% to 40% of the food crops in Bangladesh – a major threat to the country’s food security and the livelihoods of its poorest farmers. One virus complex in particular is damaging the country’s vegetable yields – specifically, crop yields in the Leguminosae family. BHEARD scholar Shimul Das wants to figure out how the leguminous virus complex works – and how to stop it.

The Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), develops agricultural scientists and increases agricultural research capacity in Feed the Future partner countries, including Bangladesh. The program is named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution.”

BHEARD gives scholarships to students seeking master’s and doctorate degrees at U.S. and regional universities, and provides funding for agricultural research in their home countries. The program also develops, tests and evaluates new models of small-scale institutional capacity development.

With aid from a BHEARD scholarship, Das is studying for a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology at Washington State University (WSU). When Das, who joined BHEARD in January 2016, first came to the United States, he was homesick. With the passage of time, however, he became more comfortable with U.S. culture. He started enjoying Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and other holidays.

Back home, Das is an assistant professor at Khulna University. He plans to return to Bangladesh in December 2018, where he will continue his Ph.D. research. He expects to return home more adept in the molecular identification and characterization of crop-devastating viral diseases, as well as in the development of management approaches for disease suppression. As part of a USAID-funded project, Das’ advisor at WSU is developing promising virus management measures to combat Bangladeshi crop losses. Das’ research will tie in with that effort.

The BHEARD scholar is studying the molecular characterization of leguminous virus complex on the most widely grown legumes in the country: country beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) and yard-long beans (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis). He’s also studying lentil (Lens culinaris), an important pulse crop. These crops are economically important and a chief source of protein for Bangladeshis, but recent infections caused by viruses are damaging yields considerably.

Identifying and characterizing the emerging viruses and their strains is a particularly challenging task in Bangladesh, due to a shortage of sophisticated equipment. But via his research, Das aims to identify and characterize those viruses at the gene level, to help understand their mode of infection and their transmission strategies – and to help develop preventive control methods well ahead of infestation.  

His research is separated into two segments: collecting samples from different parts of the country, and diagnosing and analyzing those samples using serological and molecular tools. Das is prioritizing the detection and characterization of bean common mosaic virus and cowpea mild mottle virus, due to their devastating and wide-spreading natures and the fact that they are unidentified and uncharacterized at a molecular level in Bangladesh. He’s also screening a collection of lentil germplasm against aphid and bean leaf roll virus.

Through his research, Das hopes Bangladeshi growers will better understand how virus pathosystems work – and can better prevent the severe infestations damaging their crop yields. He believes his research can play a pivotal role in satisfying the protein needs of his country’s malnourished population, and in improving the living standards of its poorest farmers.

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