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Potato genome set to help industry address challenges

4 July 2011

An international consortium that includes British scientists has sequenced the potato genome, opening possibilities for exploring the characteristics that contribute to a successful commercial variety.  

These recent developments in mapping the potato genome could offer growers access to varieties that are drought tolerant or are resistant to diseases such as blight or potato cyst nematodes.
 “Genome mapping will facilitate innovative ways of normal breeding of potatoes as it will be easier to identify genes and genetic markers responsible for important variety traits” says AHDB Potatoes head of R&D, Dr Mike Storey.
“These findings will lead to a more in-depth understanding of potato biology and how the environment affects it. This could result in more efficient use of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, helping growers minimise cultivation costs whilst maximising sustainable yields.”
Dr Storey notes that although pests and diseases will continue to evolve, the new information on the genetic blueprint of the potato will help the sector develop responses to address these challenges.
The new knowledge is also expected to have significant impact on the amount of time it takes to develop a new variety. Characteristics are currently changed through conventional breeding programmes that take between ten and twelve years. It is expected that the genome sequence will provide a ‘street map’ for where the useful genes are, leading to faster development times. 
“It is important for the potato industry to be ‘in tune’ with customers and the new technology will help it adapt more quickly to changes in consumer tastes,” continues Dr Storey. 
“AHDB Potatoes, recognising these potential industry benefits from the project, contributed funding together with the Scottish Government, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Defra. This enabled British researchers to make a significant contribution to the international assignment that comprised researchers from fourteen countries.”
The AHDB Potatoes announced recently that the World Potato Congress will take place between 27-30 May 2012 in Edinburgh. The organisers are hoping for 600 delegates from more than 30 countries. News of the genome success is expected to boost interest. 
The British institutes involved in the Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium (PGSC) are The James Hutton Institute in Scotland, the University of Dundee and Imperial College, London.
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