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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 July 2015

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

In the first three months of 2014, the team set up greenhouses at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and the University of Nairobi. After obtaining additional accessions from the National GeneBank of Kenya, farmers, and the World Vegetable Center in Arusha, they planted 72 specimens of eggplant and 62 of tomato. In addition to the greenhouse space, the project team acquired field space at both universities for growing trials. Data collection on the phenotypic characteristics of both crops is ongoing. Meanwhile, two MSc students in plant breeding from JKUAT and two agronomy students from the University of Nairobi have joined the project as technical assistants. The two PhD students on the project have successfully defended their thesis proposals to begin their research.
The data collection on these phenotypes is expected to lead to the selection of one eggplant variety and one tomato variety for seed production and DNA extraction. The crops will also be profiled for metabolites, and it is expected that the selected crops will represent genetic diversity within each species. This work will continue during the summer of 2014, and plans also call for students from the research team to visit the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University later in the year.
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