UK: Blight-Resistant GM Potato Shows Promise

Published online: Oct 27, 2017 Articles
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Source: Potato Pro

A genetically modified potato designed to resist late blight has worked “brilliantly” during the first year of field trials, according to scientists of The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in the United Kingdom.

Late blight is a global problem that can wipe out whole fields of potato crops unless multiple treatments of chemical fungicides are used to combat the infection and ensure a good harvest. 

The field trial conducted by TSL in the Norwich Research Park involves incorporating three blight-resistant genes from a wild potato relative into Maris Piper, a commercial variety popular in Europe.

After the first year of the field trial, scientists observed a marked improvement in late blight resistance, with a stark difference in health between the resistant and non-resistant plants. Jonathan Jones, who is leading the project, says the initial results offered hope that there could be a way of controlling late blight without the need for chemical fungicide sprays.

“The first year of the Maris Piper field trial has worked brilliantly,” says Jones. “We’ve observed resistance to late blight in all the lines. We have the technology to solve the problems that affect many people’s livelihoods. Crop diseases reduce yields and require application of agri-chemicals, and this field trial shows that a more sustainable agriculture is possible.”

Alongside resistance to blight, next year’s field trials of modified Maris Piper potatoes will also carry traits to improve tuber quality. Two genes will be switched off in the plant, a process known as “silencing.”

One aim is to make the new crop less prone to bruise damage, making it easier to ensure the potatoes meet customer quality specifications. The second could reduce blackening and formation of acrylamide when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures—for instance, when frying chips.

This work is being carried out with a Horticulture and Potato Initiative grant, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and run in partnership with Simplot Plant Sciences in the U.S. and BioPotatoes Ltd. in the UK