While turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving plate, a humble side dish is getting its moment in the science spotlight. The Global Crop Diversity Trust and the International Potato Center in Peru have set aside $1 million for a renewable 5-year grant that aims to study and protect the crop. The grant is designed to help scientists study and maintain the tuber’s genetic diversity, as well as develop ways to make it more resistant to pests, disease, and weather changes.
Worldwide, about 130 million tons of sweet potatoes are grown annually, making it the fifth largest food crop by weight. The sweet potato is also a nutritional powerhouse, packing substantial amounts of ß carotene, calcium , fiber, and vitamins A, B1, and B2. In addition, the sweet potato is an attractive crop for small farmers because relatively large amounts can be grown on smaller plots of land, and it doesn’t require fertilizer and is highly resistant to weeds.