Thursday, 21 September 2017

 

Dutch potato breeding company Solynta has developed potato varieties that are resistant to potato late blight (Phytophthora). The varieties have been introduced to the public during a field day held by the company at its premises in Wageningen, the Netherlands this week.

The company explained the process in a press release: potatoes are generally clone-bred and grown vegetatively. A seed-potato is put in the ground, which produces some ten new potatoes. One of the disadvantages of this system is that the parent plant transmits diseases to the offspring. Also, making the crop resistant is a long process. Solynta has therefore selected a whole new approach: the company developed hybrid breeding with elite parent-lines, which allow propagation with true seeds. As a result, the breeders were able to cross-breed multiple resistance genes into the potato plant within a two-year period. The perfectly healthy potato plants in the test field have two resistance genes, whereas those with a single resistance gene exhibit minor signs of infection.

Natural protection against Phytophthora is of great importance for the environment. This potato disease causes many billions worth of damage worldwide and is a serious threat to food production. Up to now, farmers have only had one option to save their crop when the plants become infected: spraying heavily and frequently with a chemical pesticide.

Resistance to phytophore is just one example of the breakthroughs made possible by hybrid potatoes from true seed. This new breeding technique for potatoes makes it possible to rapidly introduce better varieties. Not only with natural protection against diseases, but also with improved taste, suitable for organic farming methods, or with an increased nutritional value. Furthermore, these hybrid potatoes can not only be bred multiple times faster than the usual clone bred but also be multiplied very rapidly. From one single plant one can produces about 25 million seeds in a year. In addition, potato seeds can thus be distributed quickly and easily around the whole world. One bag of 25 grams of true-seed replaces 2,500 kilos of seed-potatoes.

The European Union has co-financed this demonstration with a prestigious Horizon 2020 funding grant. The EU wants to promote the innovative power of companies and research institutes with the Horizon 2020 program. Previously, Solynta was named a National Icon by the Ministry of Economic Affairs as a ground-breaking, innovative company which helps to create economic wealth while solving major social problems.

Late blight is responsible for losses to farmers in the order of around EUR10bn worldwide, despite intensive use of pesticides.  

In the Netherlands, the cost for the almost ninety thousand potato growers is estimated at EUR150m, according to figures released by WageningenUniversity. Phytophthora has thus far being able to evade successful resistance by most commercially produced potato varieties. Solynta’s director, Hein Kruyt, reportedly says his company is capable of breeding potato varieties with multiple disease resistance genes – as many as three, four or even more. He says Solynta has developed late blight resistant potato varieties with a “stable parental line”, according to dutchnews.nl.   

Solynta is expected to have another four to five years to go before farmers can grow these new resistant potatoes commercially. Thanks to Solynta’s new techniques – described by some as “unconventional”, it is said to be also easier to select other characteristics such as taste or suitability for a particular variety to be used for fries and chips. 

Related articles: 

AHDB Launches New Tool to Fight against Blight 

Potato Growers Get Help to Fight with Late Blight Pathogen 

Dundee-China collaboration discovers potential ‘Achilles heel’ of potato blight 

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