Back to News

A one-year extension for The CONNECTED Network

Funding that will provide a one-year extension to the life of The CONNECTED Virus Network was unveiled by Network Director Prof. Gary Foster and Co-Director, Prof. Neil Boonham, on the final day of the successful two week ‘Springboard To Impact’ online conference.

The 1,480-strong plant health / entomology network was due to end its term on 31 December 2020. Now a 12-month extension has been granted by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The network, which brings together world-class researchers from across the globe to tackle plant diseases that devastate food crops in Sub-Saharan African countries, will now be able to continue its work until at least the end of 2021.

Prof. Gary Foster (University of Bristol) said: “We are grateful to the BBSRC for its support, and to all our fabulous network members for their continuing engagement since 2017. As Directors we will continue to work closely with the network team, redoubling efforts to ensure the network goes from strength to strength.

“The extension will provide a number of extra opportunities for members. For example, we are planning for more networking and collaboration, putting some of our scientific training online for easier access, and improved website resources.”

Prof Neil Boonham (Newcastle University) added: “By far the most important outcome of this welcome extension is that there will be more opportunity for network members to collectively take further steps to improve food security in Sub-Saharan African countries.”

The Directors made the announcement on the final day of the ‘Springboard To Impact’ online conference, which brought together many dozens of researchers from across the world, for two weeks of scientific presentations and workshops.

It included presentations, via Zoom, from each of the 20 research projects which have received pump-prime funding from The CONNECTED Network. The projects involved 11 different food crops, and collaborations of 55 researchers in 34 institutions in 14 countries.

Project background

Farmers in Sub-Saharan African countries face failing harvests as a result of vector-borne plant disease, and are often unable to feed their local communities as a result. The diseases can lead to increased poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity. And they block the countries’ economic and social development, sometimes leading to migration as communities look for better lives elsewhere.

The CONNECTED Network, based at The University of Bristol and Newcastle University, was funded by a £2 million grant from the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports research on global issues that affect developing countries. It exists to bring together world-class researchers to find ways of tackling the devastating plant diseases caused by vector-borne viruses.

It is co-ordinated by Prof. Foster, from the University of Bristol School of Biological Sciences, long recognised as world-leading in plant virology and vector-transmitted diseases, with Professor Neil Boonham, from Newcastle University its Co-Director. The funding is being used to build a sustainable network of scientists and researchers to address the challenges. The University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute, of which Professor Foster is a member, also provides input and expertise.