Researchers have deciphered the complete sequence of one of the major food crops in Africa - the white Guinea yam.
According to the researchers, from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA; the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Science (JIRCAS), the Iwate Biotechnology Research Centre (IBRC), Japan, and the Earlham Institute and The Sainsbury Laboratory of the United Kingdom, knowing the full DNA sequence will greatly facilitate their understanding of how genetics controls key traits such as flowering, diseases, and others including quality traits, and this in turn will make the breeding of new varieties faster and more precise.
“The more we understand about the white Guinea yam, the better we will be able to help improve the crop, and help maintain this integral source of nutrition and income in a region undergoing the world’s most rapid population explosion—especially as the demand for yam is currently overwhelming—much more than what we are able to supply,” said Dr. Robert Asiedu, Director for West Africa, IITA, and a yam breeder for about 20 years.
“This is an important breakthrough. It means that yam has joined those crops with a full genome sequence, such as rice and other better-known crops,” said Asiedu.
According to Professor Ryohei Terauchi, Kyoto University and Iwate Biotechnology Research Institute, study leader and corresponding author, “The implications are profound. The genome resource will help to overcome the many challenges facing yam farmers in Africa and other parts of the world.”
The international team of scientists has identified the genetic region that differentiates the male and female plants and has developed a quick and cheap genetic assay (procedure) to tell them apart.
“Distinguishing between male and female plants at the seedling stage can save months for yam scientists. This wouldn’t have been achievable with the resources we had without the genome sequence,” said Terauchi.
By Kafui Gale-Zoyiku