The latest ideas, innovations and research on breeding better varieties of potato were discussed at an international conference on potato breeding and genetics held in Carlow in the Republic of Ireland.
The theme of the conference was "The Science of Selection - Potato Breeding Methodology for the 21st Century" and was attended by delegates from Europe, the United States and Japan.
The conference, organized by Teagasc - the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority - brought together members of two organizations, the European plant-breeding group Eucarpia and the European Association for Potato Research. They meet every three years to review the most recent scientific developments.
Delegates visited the Teagasc Crops Research Center where potato breeding researcher Denis Griffin told of the work that has been carried out there since the early 1960s.
A commercial agreement with Irish Potato Marketing Board to exclusively market Teagasc varieties ensured a sound commercial future and over thirty varieties have been released to date including Rooster, currently the most popular variety in Ireland.
The program is constantly evolving to meet the demands of the modern consumer. One of its new varieties, Orla, combines excellent eating quality with extreme resistance to late blight, making it very suitable for both the organic and conventional markets.
The Teagasc potato breeding research program continues to increasingly target the processed potato market, while maintaining its record of producing excellent table varieties and Griffin said it is important that it uses the most cutting-edge breeding techniques available.
The conference explored the interface between commercial potato breeding and the latest developments in science.
Biotechnology researcher Dan Milbourne said the Teagasc center is a member of an international consortium that is sequencing the potato genome.
"This will allow us to identify almost everyone of the 40,000 to 50,000 genes in potato, potentially revolutionizing our understanding of the fundamental biological processes that go into making a potato," he said. "That might sound like a very lofty academic goal but this is the exact knowledge that will allow us to breed potatoes more efficiently. Breeders cross potato varieties with complementary characteristics to produce new varieties that combine the best of both parents.
"However, some of the characteristics, especially those relating to quality, are not inherited in a very predictable manner, mostly because they are controlled by many genes in the parents. Knowing what genes each parent possesses, and how these genes will combine in the progeny to affect the characteristics in question will allow breeders to produce high-performing new varieties much more efficiently."