Toolkit To Develop New Varieties Of Sweetpotato

An Agricultural Research Service biologist is starting a project to create a genomics toolkit that will help plant breeders develop new varieties of sweetpotato. The biologist, Brian Scheffler, and his colleagues will use equipment at the ARS Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Unit in Stoneville, MS, to develop and locate DNA markers on the 90 chromosomes of sweetpotato.

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According to Scheffler, sweetpotato is the world’s seventh most important food crop and is very important to food security. In spite of its importance, very little genomics information is available in a form that sweetpotato breeders can use to develop new varieties for enhanced nutrition or improved resistance to stresses brought about by climate change, adverse environmental conditions, or pests and diseases.

Scheffler will receive $120,000 in funding through the agency’s 2010 T.W. Edminster Award to pay for a two-year postdoctoral research associate to work with him on the sweetpotato project. The award, named for a former ARS administrator, enables postdoctoral researchers to work closely with experienced scientists in their fields of interest, as well as conduct high-priority research on pressing agricultural issues.

In addition to creating genetic maps of sweetpotato, Scheffler and his postdoctoral associate will use a high-throughput DNA sequencer to develop a sweetpotato microarray for studying where, when and how certain genes are expressed. Of particular interest are genes affecting rhizome (underground stem) production in sweetpotato, especially during stress related to environmental factors such as drought.

For more information, go to www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/091105.htm.

Source: ARS news release