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Unlocking the Sweet Potato’s Underground Secrets Will Boost Food Security

Sarah Mathura’s new study charts a vital path to understanding sweet potato growth and boosting its yield, potentially revolutionising food security in developing countries.

In a recent article published in AoB PLANTS, Sarah Mathura underlines the urgent need for a more profound understanding of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) storage root initiation. The sweet potato is a crucial global food crop, ranking sixth in importance for its significant contribution to energy supply in the diets of many in developing countries. But, despite its value, understanding how these storage roots – the edible part of the crop – develop remains fragmented.

Storage roots, or the fleshy tubers of the plant that store nutrients, are pivotal for crop yield. Understanding how these storage roots initiate and develop could lead to better crop yields and more secure food sources. While other crops have been studied extensively, progress on sweet potato has lagged due to challenges inherent to the crop, including its complex hexaploid genome, i.e., having six sets of chromosomes.

The article doesn’t only highlight this knowledge gap; it identifies important aspects of hormone signalling during storage root initiation that need further investigation and suggests potential candidate genes for future study. Hormones, in this context, refer to substances produced in an organism that regulate growth and development. They play a vital role in the process of tuberization, the process of forming tubers or storage roots.

A crucial question Mathura points to is whether there is a specific signal or set of signals that initiate tuberization. Answering this could prove beneficial to plant breeders, allowing them to select varieties of sweet potato that yield more efficiently and at a quicker pace. This would, in turn, contribute to improving food security, especially in developing countries heavily reliant on this nutritious crop.

Sweet potato SR [storage root] initiation is a complex process that involves the interplay of several signalling pathways that involve various hormones, TFs and miRNAs. Prior to the release of a high-quality genome reference, progress in elucidating these pathways lagged in comparison to other well-studied storage organs, such as potato and cassava. It is expected that sweet potato research will accelerate with the availability of improved databases and experimental resources. While the present era of research on SR formation in sweet potato is largely based on transcriptomic data, it is expected that more proteomic and metabolomic data will complement these studies. This will lead to the improvement in our knowledge on these complex regulatory pathways and this should translate into producing better-yielding sweet potato varieties.

Mathura 2023.

Mathura, S.R. (2023) “Deciphering the hormone regulatory mechanisms of storage root initiation in sweet potato: challenges and future prospects,” AoB PLANTS, 15(3), p. lad027. Available at:

Fi Gennu

Fi Gennu is a pen-name used for tracking certain posts on the blog. Often they're posts produced with the aid of Hemingway. It's almost certain that Alun Salt either wrote or edited this post.

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