Sweet Potatoes Get Around

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Science  08 Feb 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6120, pp. 628
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6120.628-a

The origins of the sweet potato and its movement with humans have long been debated. This is because the sweet potato originated in South and Central America, but some evidence suggests that it was found in Polynesia during pre-Columbian times, indicative of contact between these human populations at this early time. Roullier et al. have used genetic markers in modern and herbarium specimens to infer the movements of this crop across the world. Two distinct gene pools were discovered in the northern and southern regions of the neotropics; in addition, recent interbreeding and movement between these two distinct gene pools could be detected. On the basis of herbarium specimens collected across the globe, there was evidence that the majority of lineages in Polynesia were initially derived from South America during pre-Columbian times. However, modern Oceanic populations appear to be primarily from the northern region population, which suggests a more recent reintroduction; although evidence of mixing with South American populations was also detected. This mixing has led to the generation of local varieties and phenotypes, obscuring some historical movements of plant germplasm, and provides more definitive evidence of early human contact between Oceania and South America.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 110, 10.1073/pnas.1211049110 (2013).

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