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Just in time for Thanksgiving: new data on the sweetpotato

Alan Flurry

A globally important food crop as well as a staple at every* American Thanksgiving table, Sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) has widely recognized potential to alleviate hunger, vitamin A deficiency, and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Biofortification with pro-vitamin A-rich orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) in SSA has led to millions of Africans being spared the devastating effects of vitamin A deficiency, a main cause of illness, blindness and death in children under five years. 

However, their genetic complexity plus the lack of information regarding the sweetpotato genome makes it difficult to introduce improvements. But an international team including scientists from UGA generated genome sequences for sweetpotato wild relatives I. trifada and I. triloba, which were published in Nature Communications on November 2. This new research provides genomic resources for sweetpotato improvement that can be shared with breeders and farmers.

"By shedding light on the evolutionary ancestry of this globally important crop species and its wild relatives, we are helping breeders identify genes contributing to disease resistance, storage root development and nutrient content," said Lauren Eserman, (Ph.D. plant biology, 2017) who contributed analyses of the relatedness between the sequenced genomes and domesticated sweetpotato. Eserman's doctoral work in the lab of plant biology professor Jim Leebens-Mack sheds light on the relationships among sweetpotato and its wild relatives in the morning glory family.

"Our lab continues to work with Lauren and others to understand the genetic basis for the evolutionary origins and domestication of sweetpotato," Leebens-Mack said.

Eserman currently works as Conservation Research Coordinator at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, characterizing genetic variation for native plants across the Southeast, including relatives of sweetpotato. Congratulations to the entire research team for their coordinated efforts and this important new publication.


Image via the International Potato Center



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