New research into developing potatoes with genes from wild potato varieties has found them to require 80 per cent less chemicals.
Scientists from Wageningen UR in The Netherlands found when genetically modifying potatoes with genes from wild potato varieties resistant against Phytophthora they didn’t need as high levels as chemicals as conventional potatoes.
Global potato cultivation is under threat from the pathogen Phytophthora infestans. Farmers who can afford to do so spray their crops against the pathogen with chemicals up to 15 times a year, which is both expensive and harmful to the environment.
Farmers without the means for chemical control lose a large part of their yield in some years as a result of the disease.
The research was commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs with the goal of finding ‘proof of principle’ for genetically modifying existing potato varieties solely with genes of potato species in order to develop a durable resistance against phytophthora.
These potatoes could substantially reduce the global use of crop protection products and make a major contribution to the production of extra food.
The scientists mapped scores of resistance genes from wild potatoes of which nearly half were ‘cloned’ so that they could be transformed to existing potato varieties as single genes or in sets of two or three.
After the scientists had determined that they could actually make susceptible potato varieties resistant, these potato plants were then multiplied to provide sufficient potatoes for research on trial fields.
In small monitoring plots resistant potatoes were used to study which types of Phytophthora were present. In larger demonstration fields, visitors could see for four consecutive years the success of the attempt to make vulnerable potatoes resistant to Phytophthora.
By Chris McCullough