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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Harnessing genomics of edible African Solanaceae plants for improved nutritional and food security

PI: Willis Owino (Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology), with co-PI Jane Ambuko (University of Nairobi)
U.S. Partner: James Giovannoni (Cornell University)
Project Dates: August 2013 to January 2016

Plant genetic diversity is the principal resource for crop improvement efforts. Africa maintains thousands of wild crop relatives to be collected, studied, and documented to facilitate use in improved crop varieties to meet the challenges of food security in the face of rising food demand. Abundant genetic resources in the developed world for Solanaceae crops, including the tomato and the potato, has provided a springboard for plant genomics to assist in the exploitation of underutilized crops and enhance productivity, sustainability, and quality. In turn, developing world germplasm and scientific resources have significant potential for impact on developed world agriculture. There is great potential for both developed and developing countries to benefit from enhanced productivity and sustainable resource utilization to promote greater nutritional security.
The primary goal of this project is to use existing Solanaceae genome resources and state-of-the-art technologies in the Western world to characterize genetic diversity and nutrient/non-nutrient metabolite compounds in Solanaceae crops of importance to smallholder farmers and consumers. The project team aims to provide a foundation of plant genomics useful for improvement of indigenous African fruits and vegetables. The project team will engage local breeders to identify Solanaceae germplasm representing a spectrum of genetic diversity to be used in agronomic improvement programs targeting sustainability, nutrition, and food security. The resulting resources will aid in (1) variety identification, (2) assessment of genetic diversity, (3) development of genetic linkage maps, (4) marker-assisted selection of yield and nutritional traits, and (5) linkage to fruit nutrient and performance quality traits and postharvest loss relevant to local food security. Results obtained through this project will also be incorporated into the Solanaceae(SOL) Genomics Network Database, the NSF-funded project of the U.S. partner, which constitutes one of the main meeting, data storage, and data enabling resource for the Solanaceae community worldwide.

Summary of Recent Activities

During the summer of 2014, both Dr. Owino and Dr. Ambuko participated in the August PEER conference at 2014 at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania where they were able to meet other PEER awardees and share ideas. Dr. Owino went on to attend the 29th International Horticultural Congress 2014 held in Brisbane, Australia at the end of the month. Additionally, one of the team members, Elias Mibei, participated in a workshop titled “Transferable Skills Training for Successful Doctoral Students: Global and Local Perspectives” held at Makerere University, Uganda from August 18 to September 5.

In terms of research and data gathering activities, the team made respectable progress toward their short-term and overall project goals. The team replanted the harvested seeds to obtain S1 generation seeds, conducted an evaluation of African eggplant accessions for selected traits under field conditions and evaluated the extent of genetic diversity in African eggplant and tomato crops as well as their resistance to bacterial wilt and vitamin content during the multiple stages of ripening.

In the near future, student team members will present initial results at a November conference and will then participate in a seven month exchange visit scheduled to begin in January for the students at the Boyce Thompson Institute of Plant Research at Cornell University. The team will also continue analyzing crop diversity, identify target genes involved in nutrient composition, effective yield and shelf-life quality, and conduct an analysis of the complete tomato and eggplant genomes.
Back to PEER Cycle 2 Grant Recipients