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World Potato Congress speakers outline key developments

3 April 2012

This year’s World Potato Congress, to be held in Edinburgh in May and organised by AHDB Potatoes, has attracted a remarkable line-up of international speakers. Grower Gateway examines the notable developments they will be highlighting. 

Potato genome – what’s the potential?
Last summer an international team of scientists succeeded in mapping the potato genome, a scientific breakthrough that could revolutionise potato breeding programmes.
Researchers now know where all genes sit in the crop’s DNA, which should enable them to develop new varieties with enhanced traits, like improved nutritional quality, better drought tolerance and improved resistance to pests and diseases, much faster than current techniques allow.
Dr Glenn Bryan of the James Hutton Institute led the UK contingent of the genome research team. He believes genetics-based selection holds huge promise, but adds there is still much work to be done to turn science into reality.
“The sequencing of the genome will really help us put more science into the sector,” he explains.  “But, while we now know where each of the 40,000 genes in a potato chromosome is, we don’t know what they all do.”
Identifying what traits they confer can take a year or more for each gene. Fortunately, there are shortcuts. For example, similar DNA sequences may occur in other organisms, giving a good steer on what they do. And, rather than pinpointing the exact gene, genetic markers can be used. These specific DNA sequences are associated with a particular gene or trait, but are much easier to identify and develop.
Once identified, traits have to be introduced into the breeding process. This remains a potential bottleneck as it can take years using conventional techniques. 
GM technology, strictly confined to the laboratory, would enable breeders to identify almost instantly whether a trait had been taken up and was functioning correctly, Glenn explains. “This would be very useful for traits that are more difficult to work with conventionally, such as good nematode resistance.”
Within a few years growers and consumers could start to reap significant benefits from the sequencing of the genome, says Glenn. “We won’t see an immediate effect, but within five to 10 years we will start to see a real impact,” he concludes.
* Glenn will examine the prospects for improving production, enhancing nutritional properties and meeting consumer needs on Day 2 of the WPC, Future Opportunities. 
Storing perfect potatoes
Many potatoes are in store longer than they are in the ground. It follows that good store practice is as vital as good agronomy, and new technologies are constantly being developed to help growers load out as high a percentage of perfect potatoes as possible at the right cost.
However, given the amount of information that now exists there is a real need to develop better decision support systems to help store managers make the most of it, says Adrian Cunnington, head of Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research. 
“We now have an abundance of computerised outputs to help growers obtain the best control over temperature, ventilation and humidity, all of which are key factors in good storage management,” he explains. “This technology also helps growers manage stores as efficiently as possible in terms of energy use and therefore cost.”
A key concern is that despite all this information growers still do not use it as effectively as they might. For example, many do not react quickly enough when problems start to occur, he says. Wet tubers, disease, the wrong temperature, atmospheric problems or sprouting can all quickly develop into serious problems if left long enough.
“Whether you are looking to increase returns or reduce costs, there is a huge amount of information that has been gathered over the past 30 years. It just needs to be distilled and included into management systems so it is more readily available for people to use.” 
* Visitors to WPC can hear more about ways to store the perfect potato in a practical workshop session led by Nora Olsen from the University of Idaho and Adrian Cunnington, head of Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research, who will talk about sprout suppression management on Day 1 of the WPC.
The World Potato Congress takes place every three years, and the 2012 Edinburgh event on 27-30 May is world class, attracting speakers from the UK, USA, Scotland, England, The Netherlands, China, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Canada. It will provide a unique opportunity for growers and the whole industry to share information and uncover vital new knowledge.
For more information and to reserve your place at the Congress go to
Grower Gateway - Issue 3, 2012
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