"When researchers discover an important trait - for example, that a certain species is resistant to disease - then everything related to that species becomes potentially useful," Spooner says. "We can screen samples to see if related germplasm has similar resistance, in which case we may be able to guide plant breeders to germplasm to use in breeding programs."
And beyond the agricultural benefits, Spooner's study has helped to rewrite a small but important chapter of evolutionary history.
"Books are written about questions of how crops originate," he says. "Sometimes statements are repeated so often that they are accepted as fact. This is a way to get people to reconsider long-held assumptions of the origin of the potato, and stimulate us to reconsider the origins of other crops using new methods."
Spooner's collaborators included colleagues from the Genome Dynamics Programme at the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Scotland. The work was supported financially by the USDA Agricultural Research Service, by the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, and by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department.