Global plant health network CONNECTED receives £500K grant from UKRI-International for impact realisation

The Community Network for Vector-Borne Plant Viruses (CONNECTED), based at the University of Bristol, has been awarded half a million pounds from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) International from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

CONNECTED builds multidisciplinary research capacity to tackle plant viruses spread by insects, with a particular focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. The network has grown to more than 1500 members across 87 countries and represents an impressive global resource of insect vector and plant virus expertise.

With this new award, CONNECTED will build upon its interdisciplinary research portfolio of 20 innovative international projects – which involve collaborations between 55 researchers in 34 institutions – with the aim of finding practical real-world solutions for insect-spread plant diseases in 11 different crops. Project teams will be able to exploit, disseminate and translate their outputs into the most impactful next steps.

This funding will allow the network to move forward with its ambition to equip the next generation of plant health researchers with the skills they need to tackle insect-spread plant viruses. Capacity building will be an important part of the strategy, with the network continuing to build upon its strong international partnerships and co-create ‘clusters’ of vector-borne plant virus expertise across a broad geographical area. The funding will also allow CONNECTED to work with researchers across a broader range of disciplines, such as climate services and nutrition, to develop useful tools and mechanisms for improving uptake of the latest research findings, strengthening communities’ resilience in the face of crop diseases.

CONNECTED will also be engaging other key organisations with the aim of influencing government policies, paving the way for the more effective surveillance, detection and control of insect-spread plant viruses.

To date, the network has been a tremendously successful project. In June 2022, more than 300 people from 50 countries registered for New CONNECTIONS – a three-day online conference bringing plant pathologists and entomologists together to share knowledge and expertise. The conference was sponsored by the British Society for Plant Pathology (BSPP).

The CONNECTED network was founded in 2017, grant funded by the UK government Global Challenges Research Fund through BBSRC, as a collaboration led by Professor Gary Foster at the University of Bristol and Professor Neil Boonham at Newcastle University. It has also received funding from the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation (BCAI).