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“Greater Good” Award to Boost Sweet Potato Research

A plan to shed more light on the complicated genetics of the sweet potato has garnered two NC State University scientists an Agricultural Greater Good Initiative Award from the genomics company Illumina.

Dr. Craig Yencho and Bode Olukolu of the Department of Horticultural Science have received a donation of Illumina sequencing reagents to use in two projects: One involves a novel way of assembling the genome of cultivated sweet potato, while the other entails sequencing a diverse pool of sweet potato germplasm from around the world to develop a common set of single nucleotide polymorphism genetic markers that breeders can use to improve sweet potatoes.

The Greater Good Initiative Award is designed to help researchers tackle genomics-oriented projects aimed at alleviating hunger, malnutrition and poverty. It complements Yencho and Olukolu’s ongoing work and partnerships to develop genomic tools for improving sweet potato worldwide.

Sweet potatoes, which constitute the world’s seventh most important food crop, are adaptable to diverse climates, but efforts to use molecular techniques to breed sweet potatoes that are more nutritious or optimized for regional needs have been challenging.

While the project to map the genome of the cultivated sweet potato isn’t the first, it involves a novel, high throughput approach that marries old and new technology, says Yencho, a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor. “It’s an ambitious, high-risk project that would represent a much better roadmap for identifying genes of importance on the genetic blueprint of the sweet potato, which is North Carolina’s most important vegetable crop and an important global crop, too.”