GM spuds beat blight

Feb 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —In a three-year GM research trial, scientists boosted resistance of potatoes to late blight, their most important disease, without deploying fungicides.

The findings, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and The Gatsby Foundation, will be published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on 17 February.

In 2012, the third year of the trial, the experienced ideal conditions for . The scientists did not inoculate any plants but waited for races circulating in the UK to blow in.

Non-transgenic Desiree plants were 100% infected by early August while all GM plants remained fully resistant to the end of the experiment. There was also a difference in yield, with tubers from each block of 16 plants weighing 6-13 kg while the non-GM tubers weighed 1.6-5 kg per block.

The trial was conducted with Desiree potatoes to address the challenge of building to blight in with popular consumer and processing characteristics.

The introduced gene, from a South American wild relative of potato, triggers the plant's natural defence mechanisms by enabling it to recognise the pathogen. Cultivated potatoes possess around 750 resistance genes but in most varieties, late blight is able to elude them.

"Breeding from wild relatives is laborious and slow and by the time a gene is successfully introduced into a cultivated variety, the late blight pathogen may already have evolved the ability to overcome it," said Professor Jonathan Jones from The Sainsbury Laboratory.

"With new insights into both the pathogen and its potato host, we can use GM technology to tip the evolutionary balance in favour of potatoes and against late blight."

In northern Europe, farmers typically spray a potato crop 10-15 times, or up to 25 times in a bad year. Scientists hope to replace chemical control with genetic control, though farmers might be advised to spray even resistant varieties at the end of a season, depending on conditions.

The Sainsbury Laboratory is continuing to identify multiple blight resistance genes that will difficult for blight to simultaneously overcome. Their research will also allow resistance genes to be prioritized that will be more difficult for the pathogen to evade.

In a new BBSRC-funded industrial partnership award with American company Simplot and the James Hutton Institute, the TSL researchers will continue to identify and experiment with multiple resistance genes. By combining understanding of with knowledge of the pathogen, they hope to develop Desiree and Maris Piper varieties that can completely thwart attacks from late blight.

Explore further: Irish potato famine-causing pathogen even more virulent now

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User comments : 1

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Kev_C
not rated yet Feb 18, 2014
We already have a non-GMO late Blight Resistant Potato so why do we insist on continuing to give control of our food to those with nothing but profit in mind? After all the insertion of a foreign gene into something quite different from the source of origin is merely giving the patent hungry corporations a free license to sue for profit an control. Whereas the naturally produced (not hybridised) late blight resistant variety doesn't belong to anyone as intellectual property.
All very corrupt and highly dangerous nonsense this GMO meddling.

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