Innate :DNA Restructured

A new way to approach biotchnology

Published in the August 2013 Issue Published online: Aug 29, 2013 Tyler J. Baum
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"Haven Baker, general manager and vice president of Simplot Plant Sciences.

At the Washington-Oregon Potato Conference in Kennewick, Wash., in January, University of Idaho Agricultural Economics Professor Joe Guenthner explained the history of genetically modified potato varieties and how backlash from a minority of people eventually took all varieties off the market. Guenthner was optimistic, however, that genetically modified potatoes can work and they will be back.

Simplot is already on it.

Simplot Plant Sciences has been working for the past 12 years on developing a new biotechnology process that will result in tangible improvements in crops, leading to better foods and, ultimately, sustainable benefits for the land. The first fruit to be plucked from that tree from all those years of research is Innate technologies.


`Very Minor Changes'

Haven Baker, general manager and vice president of Simplot Plant Sciences, says that traditional breeders have real challenges to overcome when developing new varieties.

"Consumers have an expectation on how a potato tastes, its texture and other sensory qualities. Growers have an expectation of how a potato should grow and yield. Combining those sensory and agronomic expectations for new varieties of potatoes is always a challenge. What often happens is, to increase one thing, you have to give up something else. One market or the other is not willing to give that up."

Baker explains that Innate technologies is different from traditional breeding by working with the potato's own genes to enhance desirable traits and decrease less desirable traits-trying to keep it as close to the original potato as possible.

Simplot's Innate technologies allow researchers to isolate genetic elements from a potato plant genome, rearrange them or link them together in desired permutations, and introduce them back into the genome without incorporating anything other than potato plant genes.

Baker says, "This [process] allows us to introduce very precise changes in a potato, and so it ends up being in some ways similar to plant breeding but a lot faster."

Because Innate technologies effectively accelerate the process of conventional crossing, it allows desired changes in traditional potato varieties much faster than is currently possible, while maintaining the desired characteristics of the original parent plant. There are three components of Innate technology: transformation, gene silencing and trait transfer.

Innate gene silencing naturally works within a plant's genes by enhancing or reducing the expression of traits. The technical term for the Innate gene silencing approach is RNA interference.

In contrast to traditional breeding, where tens of thousands of genes would be changed, Simplot breeders are only changing a handful.

"We're making very, very minor changes that can have commercial benefits," he says.


Innate 1.0 and 2.0

The first generation of Innate potatoes, soon to be available in Russet Burbank, Ranger, Atlantic and later Snowden, contains three traits that provide significant benefits to the industry. The first is reduced black spot from bruising, resulting in potatoes less prone to pressure bruising during storage. In addition, the potatoes don't brown when cut. The second is a reduction in free asparagines levels, a potential for acrylamide formation.

"Future varieties will reduce acrylamide by up to 90 percent," he says.

The third trait is lower reducing sugars, providing, under the right conditions, potatoes with a consistent golden color.

According to Baker, Innate potatoes will be grown like any other potato-with no change in yield.

After four years of trials in commercial fields in 12 states-including Washington, Idaho, the Midwest and even the Southeast-Simplot is very confident.

"So far, we can say that from a sensory perspective, our Innate Burbanks are the same as traditional Burbanks. From an agronomic perspective, we can't tell any differences."

At this time, they're seeking regulatory approvals in Japan, Canada and Mexico in order to help with foreign export issues.

Simplot's next Innate outing-which should be released in the next couple of years-could possibly see the introduction of potatoes resistant to late blight, sugar ends and PVY, and potatoes capable of being stored at lower temperatures. Baker says the genes for blight resistance originate from a wild potato from the potato's Garden of Eden-the Andes in Peru-sexually compatible with commercial potato varieties but difficult to bring to market without Innate.

As far as public outcry of "GMO," Baker acknowledges that there's always a vocal minority who'll oppose it, but Innate technologies is a variation more acceptable than the traditional GMO-and so far, most reactions have been positive.

"As far as Innate technology, you have to explain it to folks. And we've explained it," he says. "There is a small percentage who have reacted very negatively, but our research and other research shows that Americans as a majority accept GMO and biotechnology. We think our Innate technology, which is potato genes in potatoes, is one of the more innocuous ways of doing biotechnology."

To learn more about Innate, visit