Cassava originated in South America and was introduced to Africa in relatively recent times. It is known to be a very drought-tolerant crop with the ability to yield even when planted in poor soils. When cassava was first grown in Africa, it was used for subsidiary purposes though it is now considered to be one of the most important food staple crops on the continent. Its production is moving toward an industrialized system in which plant material is used for a variety of products including starch , flour, and animal feed.
As cassava is vegetatively propagated, it is particularly vulnerable to viruses and thus Cassava geminiviruses lead to great economic loss each year. When these infect a host plant, the plant’s defense system is triggered. Plants use gene silencing to suppress viral replication, though begomoviruses have evolved a counter-acting suppressor protein against this natural host defense. Because different species of begomovirus produce different variants of this suppressor protein, co-infection by multiple species typically leads to more severe disease symptoms.
Initially following infection of a cassava geminivirus in cassava, systemic symptoms develop. These symptoms include chlorotic mosaic of the leaves, leaf distortion, and stunted growth. Infection can be overcome by the plant especially when a rapid onset of symptoms occurs. A slow onset of disease development usually correlates with death of the plant.
Though the cassava-infecting geminiviruses causes most of their economic damage in cassava, they are able to infect other plants. The host range depends on the species of virus and most are able to be transmitted and to cause disease on other plants.
CONTROL STRATEGIES for cassava mosaic disease include sanitation and plant resistance. In this case, sanitation means using cuttings from healthy plants to start with a healthy plot and maintaining that healthy plot by identifying unhealthy plants and immediately removing them. This strategy does not protect them from being inoculated by whiteflies, but research shows that the virus is more aggressive in plants infected from contaminated cuttings than by insect vectors.