Since 2011, the Agricultural Greater Good Initiative has awarded grants of Illumina products to researchers using Illumina technology to tackle diverse genomics-oriented projects aimed at alleviating global hunger, malnutrition, and poverty in the developing world. Supported research projects have spanned the globe and the spectrum of scientific discovery improving studies of agriculturally important plants and animals that are commonly consumed by food insecure populations.
This week at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, Illumina awarded researchers at North Carolina State University the 2017 award for their projected to develop a high quality de novo whole genome assembly and a SNP array for the hexaploid sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). G. Craig Yencho, PhD, Professor in the Department of Horticulture and Bode Olukolu, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, will use the grant to develop and validate SNPs for a SNP array that represents sweet potato global diversity.
“We are proud to continue to offer this award as a way to propel research that has such rich potential to address malnutrition and hunger in so many different parts of the world,” said Ryan Rapp, PhD, Associate Director of Agrigenomics at Illumina. “The hundreds of applications we received for the Agricultural Greater Good Initiative award were a testament to the importance of genomics in addressing global food needs.”
Sweet potato is the seventh most important food crop globally due to its adaptability to different climates. However, the highly heterozygous and hexaploid nature of the sweet potato genome, and 96 chromosomes, make trait inheritance from generation to generation complex, challenging efforts to use molecular breeding techniques to breed more nutritious sweet potatoes and optimize the crop to regional needs.
“Sweet potato has great potential to contribute to the alleviation of malnutrition and hunger in the developing world,” said Yencho. “Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are a great example. They have high pro-vitamin A content and illustrate the effectiveness of biofortified staple crops in combating vitamin A deficiency in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia.”
“The Greater Good Initiative will help us further unravel the genetic complexity of the sweet potato and support our efforts to develop modern breeding tools for sweet potato breeders globally,” added Olukolu.
The grant of sequencing reagents needed to produce 20Tb of data will be used to complete the de novo assembly project and enhance SNP calling to help develop a SNP array for use in sweet potato breeding programs globally. The team also plans to leverage their existing collaborations with researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and South America to put their knowledge to use in improving food security in areas where nutritional resources are lacking.
 Rodriguez-Bonilla L, Cuevas HE, Montero-Rojas M, Bird-Pico F, Luciano-Rosario D, Siritunga D (2014) Assessment of genetic diversity of sweet potato in Puerto Rico. PLoS One. 9(12):e116184.