BASF To Grow GM Potatoes

Published online: Sep 28, 2006
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Plant science giant BASF has applied to grow five acres of genetically-modified potatoes near Cambridge and Derby with resistance to late potato blight next spring.

Three potato varieties containing two genes from a wild relative with blight resistance will be planted if Environment Secretary David Miliband approves the application.

Researchers at BASF extracted genes from wild relatives of the potato found in Mexico and inserted them into crop potatoes. The genes respond to the fungus by killing off cells around the site of infection, a defense that saves the plant from destruction.

The proposed trial is being opposed by environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth, which claims the food chain will be contaminated.

German-based BASF has invested heavily in potato plant breeding to control late blight, which now has to be controlled by frequent and often expensive fungicide sprays.

British farmers spend at least £20 million to protect against blight but crop losses still run at some £50 million a year. It is estimated that 14 million tonnes of potatoes are lost to blight each year, costing' growers some £2 billion a year.