Published online: Jan 23, 2007
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The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has awarded 13.3 million pounds ($25.86 million) to 18 projects to produce new crop varieties - including potatoes - to help tackle future industry issues including climate change.

The research will look at problems including how to grow crops able to cope with climate change, breed vegetables that remain nutritious after days in the fridge and grow biomass crops more effectively. The projects will use the latest knowledge of genetic information to create varieties of crops and vegetables that will meet specific challenges through selective breeding.

The council said potato cyst nematode costs the
UK potato industry an estimated 50 million pounds ($97.24 million a year and control often depends on nematicides that are both harmful to the environment and possibly human health.

Genetic technology is to be used to control plant parasitic nematodes without harming the environment. The technology overcomes many concerns associated with producing novel proteins in the plant for protection.
University of Leeds researchers will use the technology to express a small number of dsRNA molecules in the potato plant to silence particular genes of the parasitising nematodes. This will prevent the establishment of the pathogenic interaction with the plant.

The potato disease, late blight, caused by the water mold Phytophthora infestans, is considered a threat to global food security with estimated costs of more than three billion pounds ($4.83 billion) annually worldwide. Recently it was discovered that the pathogen transfers proteins into potato cells where they may play a major role in the disease process. Conserved DNA sequences within these pathogenic proteins make it possible to identify them.

The knowledge of how pathogenic proteins work to establish infection, how they are delivered inside host cells, and how they may be recognized by host defense surveillance systems will provide new opportunities to combat this disease. The aims of a project at the Scottish Crop Research Institute and the
University of Aberdeen are to identify P. infestans proteins that trigger durable disease resistance that may be used in breeding programs, and to seek inhibitors that will interfere with the transfer process of these proteins.