Wild spuds to stop threat of blight

editorial image

Potatoes have been a staple of Ireland’s diet for more than half a millennium, but new research suggests that limited genetic differences in potato lineages has left British and American spuds vulnerable to the disease that caused the Irish potato famine.

Plant scientists from the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute have revealed that commercial potato crops are under constant threat of late blight, the pathogen behind one of Europe’s most devastating famines, but genes from wild potatoes might be the cure.

Dr Ingo Hein, Principal Investigator in plant pathogen co-evolution, says that by using tools his team has developed they could put potato breeders at ease, helping farm produce fit fritters instead of frail fries.

“By using the dRenSeq and PenSeq tools we have developed here in Scotland with peers from the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, we are able for the first time ever, to track the historical and geographical patterns of resilient genes in American and British potatoes,” said Dr Hein.

“Our preliminary data suggests that the most commercially valuable potato varieties grown in the UK and US contain a maximum of four genes already defeated by the late blight pathogen, P. infestans.”