University of Georgia

University of Georgia

Creating decay- and disease-resistant peanuts to feed growing population

peanuts in shell

As the world’s population increases, so do concerns about food supply and sufficient land for growing essential crops.

The world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2040, and the United Nations is warning that food production will need to double in developing countries to keep pace.

At the University of Georgia, Peggy Ozias-Akins’ research on the unassuming but highly nutritious peanut plant could provide valuable insights on how to feed a growing global population.

An important crop in Georgia’s economy, peanuts also provide valuable and novel insights into the molecular building blocks of plants.

“The peanut is a recently evolved crop,” says Ozias-Akins, who directs Georgia’s Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics. “The more we learn about the peanut genome and variations that do or do not exist, the more we have an idea of how to target specific DNA for selection or editing.”

This has critical implications for the state and larger global communities as Ozias-Akins and her team work to improve this nutrient-rich food. A major crop in Africa, India, and China, peanut is vital for feeding the malnourished in developing countries because of its high levels of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

“The research we’re doing to improve plant varieties increases environmental and economic sustainability of the peanut in Georgia and the world.”

– Peggy Ozias-Akins, Director, Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics

A growing concern, however, is mycotoxins: fungi that invade peanut seeds, producing carcinogenic substances in mature peanuts that can cause chronic or occasionally acute health problems in those who consume them. While the U.S. is equipped to screen for mycotoxins, it’s challenging in many parts of the world that lack resources and the necessary technology.

Researchers at Georgia have determined that plants with lower stress levels are less susceptible to mycotoxins. Irrigation is one way to reduce stress, but in developing countries, a dependable water source isn’t always a given.

That is why Ozias-Akins is working with Georgia’s federally funded Peanut Innovation Lab to determine new ways to address mycotoxin contamination on a genetic level. Her findings could help farmers grow consistently viable food, free from the toxic fungi.

people gathered at edge of peanut plot

UGA's Peanut Innovation Lab scientists and collaborators tour the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute in Ghana.

women walking down dirt road

Farmers walk home after a morning weeding in fields outside of Namapa, in northern Mozambique, in January 2017.

men working in peanut field

Research coordinator Georgy Fontaine (right) and a student take samples in peanut test plots at Meds & Food for Kids in Haiti.

women sorting peanuts

Women sort peanuts to use for seed at the Chitedze Agricultural Research Station in Lilongwe, Malawi.

people standing in peanut field

UGA's Peanut Innovation Lab scientists and collaborators tour the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute in Ghana.

people working in laboratory with peanuts

Grad student Alidu Abdul-Hafiz works in the lab at the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana, in March 2016.

men working with peanuts

Abraham Fulmer, a plant pathologist and PhD student at the University of Georgia, looks at a leaf sample.

men working with peanuts

Abraham Fulmer, a plant pathologist and PhD student at the University of Georgia, looks at a leaf sample.

“We need to produce food in a more sustainable manner, which means we have to increase the amount of food we produce per amount of land,” she says. “It has to be sustainable, environmentally and economically.”

With this valuable work, Ozias-Akins is tackling the challenges that come with feeding a growing population, and true to Georgia’s mission, she’s sharing her findings with local and global agricultural communities.

“We’re a strong land-grant institution with one of the best agriculture schools in the country,” she says. “The research we’re doing to improve plant varieties increases environmental and economic sustainability of the peanut in Georgia and the world, ensuring continued availability of this affordable and nutritious food.”

University of Georgia researcher Peggy Ozias-Akins

About the Researcher

Peggy Ozias-Akins

Director, Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics
Department of Horticulture
College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

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