Solanum is of worldwide economic importance, including major crop species such as the potato (Solanum tuberosum), the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and eggplant (Solanum melongena), as well as a number of species cultivated on a smaller scale for their edible fruits, tubers, or leaves and as sources of medicinally useful alkaloids. Thus, establishing a solid taxonomic framework for the genus Solanum is a highly desirable goal for both basic and applied science. Information obtained as a result of this project is expected to benefit society as a whole by enhancing breeding programs for the improvement of cultivated species, adding systematic and phylogenetic contexts to genomics initiatives, and by contributing to the conservation of wild Solanum species that may be useful as germplasm resources.
Progress has been made on Solanum systematics, but a comprehensive modern treatment of all species has remained intractable due to the sheer size of the genus, its morphological complexity, and its largely tropical distribution. Without a new conspectus for Solanum that describes the major clades, outlines their morphological and molecular synapomorphies, and lists all their component species future progress will be impeded. Whilst this is an ambitious project, it is now within reach due to existing taxonomic expertise, reasonable phylogenetic information, and active collaborations and cooperation among Solanum specialists.
Tens of thousands of Solanum specimens exist in the world’s herbaria, however most large herbaria's Solanum specimens are undetermined to species. The production of an overall taxonomic treatment for Solanum will ultimately make curation of these collections feasible for non-Solanum specialists. Further investigation of these collections will reveal previously undiscovered type specimens and ultimately help to stabilize Solanum nomenclature.
Information on Solanum species is scattered on many Internet sites, and whilst data is available for Solanum collections and genomics, there is little information on Solanum taxonomy. A comprehensive, holistic and centralized source of information bringing together these disparate sources would greatly improve the accessibility of these valuable resources.