The European Union (EU) market for sweet potatoes has increased by 100% over the last five years, and sweet potato cultivation in southern European countries is a new opportunity for the EU to exploit and introduce new genotypes. In view of this demand, the origins of the principal Italian sweet potato clones, compared with a core collection of genotypes from Central and Southern America, were investigated for the first time. This was accomplished by combining a genetic analysis, exploiting 14 hypervariable microsatellite markers, with morphological and chemical measurements based on 16 parameters. From the molecular analyses, Italian accessions were determined to be genetically very similar to the South American germplasm, but they were sub-clustered into two groups. This finding was subsequently confirmed by the morphological and chemical measurements. Moreover, the analysis of the genetic structure of the population suggested that one of the two groups of Italian genotypes may have descended from one of the South American accessions, as predicted on the basis of the shared morphological characteristics and molecular fingerprints. Overall, the combination of two different characterization methods, genetic markers and agronomic traits, was effective in differentiating or clustering the sweet potato genotypes, in agreement with their geographical origin or phenotypic descriptors. This information could be exploited by both breeders and farmers to detect and protect commercial varieties, and hence for traceability purposes.
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