Scientists weed out harmful genes to breed better potatoes

Scientists weed out harmful genes to breed better potatoes

Scientists weed out harmful genes to breed better potatoes. Image: Natural History Museum.

A new study into the genetics of one of the world’s most important crops has uncovered methods for more effective farming of potatoes.

Potatoes are one of the four most important carbohydrate sources in the human diet. Yet for decades farmers and plant breeders have struggled to increase potato yields, while other important carbohydrate crops such as maize and rice have shown significant improvements.

An international team of scientists including the UK’S Natural History Museum’s Dr Sandra Knapp OBE FRS, have been able to predict the presence of over 350,000 harmful gene variants that are restricting effective potato breeding.

The team hope that by fully understanding the plant’s genetics, researchers will be better able to breed new varieties of potato that are resistant to real and potential environmental challenges arising from the planetary emergency.

That potatoes are one of the most widely consumed crops on Earth belies how difficult they are to improve through plant breeding.

Potato breeding is very challenging because it is a clonally reproduced crop, so new potatoes are grown from pieces of old ones,” Sandy explained.

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Anna Ellis

Originally from Derbyshire, Anna has lived in the middle of nowhere on the Costa Blanca for 19 years. She is passionate about her animal family including four dogs and four horses, musicals and cooking.