News: Sweetpotato Virus Diagnostics Workshop, July 2015

Sweetpotato is the main food staple in Papua New Guinea, it is a valuable source of nutrition in Fiji, and a food crop of growing importance in Australia. Like all living organisms, sweetpotato can be affected by disease. In fact, research by the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has shown that crop yields can be substantially increased by a process that removes viruses from the vegetable. The disease-free planting material obtained by this process is referred to as Pathogen Tested (PT).

Sweet potato tubers with different skin colors, on sale in Indonesia (Pdemchick, Wikimedia Commons)

Sweet potato tubers with different skin colors, on sale in Indonesia (Pdemchick, Wikimedia Commons)

The Crawford Fund recently sponsored two young sweetpotato scientists, Myla Deros and Wilfred Wau, from PNG’s National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) to attend a virus diagnostics workshop held in Queensland. Myla is currently involved in an important Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded sweetpotato project, led by Mike Hughes of DAFF, studying PT sweetpotato and virus reinfection. She also maintains NARI’s PT sweetpotato planting material. Wilfred, based in Lae in the PNG lowlands, is working with PT on sweetpotato crop development. Also attending the course were researchers from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Fiji, International Potato Center (CIP) Peru, NARI and DAFF.

The workshop, funded through ACIAR and developed by Sandra Dennien (DAFF), involved both theory and practical training in the use of virus diagnostic tools. The Australian Sweetpotato Growers Association Inc. (ASPG) organised a field day to coincide with the workshop—providing the Australian industry and participants the opportunity to meet and discuss recent research and its in-field applications.

“The workshop has not only improved the individual skills of farmers but it will see them receive better planting material, enhance the quality of international sweetpotato variety transfers, and improve the communication and collaboration of this specialist group of scientists,” said Myla.