Wild Potato Genes Might Be the Key to Late Blight-resistant Spuds
New research suggests that limited genetic differences in potato lineages have left British and American spuds vulnerable to the disease that caused the Irish potato famine.
Plant scientists at the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute have revealed that commercial potato crops are under constant threat of late blight, the pathogen behind one of Europe’s most devastating famines, but wild potato genes might be the cure.
Dr. Ingo Hein, the principal investigator in plant pathogen co-evolution, says that by using tools his team has developed they could put potato breeders at ease, helping farmers produce fit fritters instead of the frail.
“By using the dRenSeq and PenSeq tools we have developed here in Scotland in collaboration with peers at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, they are able for the first time to track the historical and geographical patterns of resilient genes in American and British potatoes,” said Hein.
He went on to explain that preliminary data suggests that the most commercially valuable potato varieties grown in the UK and US contain a maximum of four genes already defeated by the late blight pathogen, P. infestans. The scientists have been able to identify new genes that remain effective against this disease which is not currently used in commercial potato production. By combining these effective genes they were able to prolong the longevity of individual resistances to the disease and reduce the need for chemical sprays on plants.
Hein has been awarded GBP625,000 in funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to continue identifying the more resilient potatoes with industry partners McCain, Greenvale and James Hutton Limited.