Sweetpotatoes Get High-Tech Help
By Jan Suszkiw
November 5, 2009
An Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
computational molecular biologist in Mississippi is launching a project to
create a genomics toolkit to help plant breeders develop new varieties of
Scheffler and his colleagues will use the state-of-the-art equipment at the
and Bioinformatics Research Unit in Stoneville, Miss., to develop and
locate DNA markers on the 90 chromosomes of sweetpotato.
Sweetpotato, the worlds seventh most important food crop, is extremely
important to global food security, according to Scheffler. Yet 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 agencys 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. The Edminster Award is
presented to the highest-ranked research proposal among 50 proposals selected
for funding through ARS annual Postdoctoral Research Associates Program.
ARS scientists submitted 450 proposals to this years program.
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.
The markers, microarrays and gene expression data will constitute the
tools in the genomics toolkit, and should enable sweetpotato
breeders to speed their identification and integration of important new traits
into their elite breeding lines.
In addition to providing funding for Schefflers project, this
years ARS Postdoctoral
Research Associates Program will fund projects on assessing host
specificity in aphid parasitoids, developing novel controls for stable flies,
and improving drought tolerance in wheat.
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The
sweetpotato project supports the USDA research priority of ensuring
international food security.