The four-year grant will help fund the development of modern genomic, genetic, and bioinformatics tools to boost the plant's ability to resist diseases and insects and better tolerate drought and severe heat. As part of an international collaborative that includes researchers from the International Potato Center; Michigan State University; Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University; the University of Queensland, Australia; the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda; and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana, NC State will also work to expand knowledge of the plant's complex genome.
A vital food security and cash crop with the potential to reduce hunger, vitamin A deficiency, and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, sweet potatoes have become a priority for the Gates Foundation's Agricultural Development Program. More than 13.5 million metric tons are produced in sub-Saharan Africa annually, predominantly in small plot holdings by poor women farmers.
"NC State has a long history of commitment to developing Africa's sweet potato breeding programs," said project director Craig Yencho, a professor of horticultural science in NC State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "We will work very closely with the sweet potato breeding community to identify young breeders for advanced training to build long-term capacity in use of genomic breeding. During the project term, we will make efforts in training to ensure that new researchers and partners are fully capable of employing newly developed tools."