Oct 27, 2017
UK researchers make progress with late blight resistance 

Researchers at the Sainsbury Laboratory in the UK have completed fields trials on a genetically modified breed of potato that incorporates late blight resistant genes from a wild potato relative into a Maris Piper potato variety.

“The first year of the Maris Piper field trial has worked brilliantly,” said professor Jonathan Jones of The Sainsbury Laboratory. “We’ve observed resistance to late blight in all the lines.”

The resistance in the modified variety works by allowing the plants to detect late blight and activate existing defense mechanisms. The potato modification involved the addition of three genes that enable late blight detection. Because the resistant lines carry three different added detection genes, it will be more difficult for the pathogen to evade detection and infect the crop. In effect, researchers hope the potatoes will have more lines of defense against the disease.

After the first year of the field trial, scientists observed a marked improvement in late blight resistance. The plants have been scored for resistance, and the results of the trial will be published following further field trials in future years.

Maris Piper is a highly popular main crop variety, selected for the trials with the objective of retaining its desirable characteristics while adding late blight resistance. Alongside resistance to blight, in field trials next year the modified Maris Piper will also carry traits that improve tuber quality. Two genes will be switched off in the plant by a process known as silencing. This means that the new crop will be less prone to bruise damage, making it easier to ensure the potatoes meet customer quality specifications. The second trait, caused by silencing an invertase gene, leads to lower levels of reducing sugars on storage at low temperatures, which will reduce blackening and formation of acrylamide when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures – for instance when cooking chips or crisps.

This work is being carried out with funding from the British government grant and in partnership with Simplot Plant Sciences in the U.S.

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