Research targets hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa

28 Apr 2015

UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience researcher Associate Professor Lachlan Coin is part of an international team tackling hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa by improving sweet potato crops.  

Sweet potato is known for its potential to help alleviate hunger, vitamin A deficiency, and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, where it is mainly grown in small plots by poor farming families.

The Genomic Tools for Sweet Potato Improvement project will increase crop productivity by developing scientific tools to examine and analyse the complex genetic blueprint of the sweet potato.

The multidisciplinary team combines expertise in applied breeding, crop production, molecular genetics and genomics, and bioinformatics and database management.

Modern genomic, genetic, statistical, and bioinformatics tools will be used to establish a marker-assisted breeding program in sweet potato.  

“Using the genomic tools developed in this project, new varieties of sweet potato crop can be developed which will have higher yields, improved nutritional characteristics, higher levels of drought tolerance, and improved disease and pest resistance,” Associate Professor Coin said.

“Initially, this project will focus on developing the genomic breeding tools and intellectual and institutional capacity required to facilitate crop improvement.

“This will set the stage to genetically improve key traits, such as yield and resistance to sweet potato virus.”

Sweet potato growers will be provided with modern applied genomics breeding tools and improved analytical methods to determine marker-trait associations.

“Local growers can then develop more productive, resilient, consumer-preferred varieties in less time.

“This means more sweet potatoes available for home consumption and an increase in cash sales,” Associate Professor Coin said.

Researchers will offer advanced training to young farmers in the use of genomic breeding methods for sweet potatoes, to build long-term capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa.  

These impacts will be particularly important for women smallholder farmers, who play a central role in agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Genomic Tools for Sweet Potato Improvement project team recently received $12.4 million over four years in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project is a global collaboration between North Carolina State University, International Potato Centre, Michigan State University, Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University, National Crops Resources Research Institute, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Crops Research Institute, and UQ IMB.

Contact: Kate Sullivan, IMB Communications, 07 3346 2155, or Gemma Ward, 07 3346 2134,