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The Molecular Biology Division applies molecular biology techniques for research and diagnostic applications to support identification and characterization of pathogens and novel crop production and protection initiatives. The laboratory is equipped with highly skilled personnel and state of the art equipment and performs its test under strict quality control guidelines (ISO 17025).

Research areas

Pathogen diversity and diagnosis

Detailed knowledge of pathogen diversity is a prerequisite to developing unambiguous diagnostic tools. Pathogen populations are characterized by DNA molecular markers (SSRs, ISSRs, sequencing specific genes) and the data generated is used to interpret origin, spread, taxonomy and phylogeny.

Our research also focuses on the development of novel molecular techniques for detection and diagnosis. Methods include DNA -based and other nucleic acid-based alternatives to the polymerase chain reaction (e.g LAMP). Our focus is to develop methods which are simple, rapid, cost effective and eliminate the delay in implementation of disease management tactics associated with traditional morphological methods.

Presently, our current research is on pathogens of economic importance in tobacco production e.g Root knot nematode, PVY, TMV, Pythium, Pseudomonas and Granville wilt.

Molecular marker-assisted breeding

The Molecular Biology Services Division is also developing molecular markers which can be used in tobacco breeding programmes. Molecular marker- assisted selection (MAS) would assist tobacco breeders to rapidly select for material that is resistant to diseases without necessarily waiting for phenotypic expression of the disease thereby shortening the breeding cycle, from perhaps 7 seasons to 4 seasons. Presently, the focus is on diseases of economic importance in tobacco production e.g Root knot nematode, TMV, PVY and Granville wilt.

Training

In addition to technology development, efforts are made to transfer technology and skills to stakeholders in national research and extension services.