A genetically improved potato designed to have resistance to late blight has successfully come through the first year of field trials.
The field trial, conducted by The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich, involves incorporating late blight resistant genes from a wild potato relative into a cultivated Maris Piper potato.
Professor Jonathan Jones of TSL says: “The first year of the Maris Piper field trial has worked brilliantly. We’ve observed resistance to late blight in all the lines.”
The potato modification involved addition of three genes that enable late blight detection. After the first year of the field trial, scientists observed a marked improvement in late blight resistance.
Because the resistant lines carry three different added detection genes, it will be more difficult for the pathogen to evade detection and infect the crop. In effect, the potatoes will have more lines of defence against the disease, according to Prof Jones.
Alongside resistance to blight, in field trials next year the modified Maris Piper will also carry traits that improve tuber quality. Two genes will be switched off in the plant, a process known as silencing. This means that the new crop will be less prone to bruise damage, making it easier to ensure the potatoes meet customer quality specifications, says TSL.
The second trait, caused by silencing an invertase gene, leads to lower levels of reducing sugars on storage at low temperatures, which will reduce blackening and formation of acrylamide when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures – for instance when cooking chips or crisps, it adds.
This work is being carried out on a BBSRC-funded Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI) grant, in partnership with Simplot Plant Sciences in the USA and with BioPotatoes Ltd in the UK.