Funding approved to develop new potato at The Sainsbury Laboratory

8th Jun 2015

Research funding to develop a new potato which could be better for the environment, healthier for consumers and cheaper to produce has been approved.

The TSL Potato Partnership Project headed by Professor Jonathan Jones is set to receive £841,000 over five years from the Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI) funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). A further ten per cent will be provided by the industrial partners in the project: BioPotatoes UK Ltd and Simplot, based in the US. If the project is successful, both companies will invest in taking the potato through the process of regulatory approval and to market in the US and Europe.

The project, which takes a GM approach, aims to combine the benefits of ground-breaking research from TSL, The University of Leeds and Simplot in one Maris Piper potato that will be resistant to late potato blight and potato cyst nematodes. It will also contain much lower than normal levels of reducing sugars and asparagine – naturally occurring chemicals in many starchy foods that form acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures. In addition, by silencing a polyphenol oxidase, it will be less prone to bruise damage, which will reduce food waste caused by discarding bruised tubers.

Every year 120,000 hectares of UK land are devoted to growing this important staple food, but producers and processors face huge challenges getting potatoes to our plates.

Late potato blight costs UK potato farmers an average of £55 million per year in losses and costs of controls.

Potato cyst nematodes are increasingly hard to control. They cause up to £26 million a year in losses. Two out of five possible pesticides used to control them have already been withdrawn from use by the EU. The other three are under review by the EU and if they became unavailable, losses would increase to £55 million, leaving little or no control of this serious pest which can wipe out an entire crop.

Bruising costs GB potato farmers £26 million each year and causes significant wastage in the supply chain and in the home.

Professor Jones aims to begin work this autumn introducing three genes which confer resistance to late potato blight, two genes that confer resistance to nematodes and a further three genes which switch off the production of asparagine and reducing sugars and polyphenol oxidase, into a Maris Piper potato.

Professor Jones said:

“We’re still some years away from our final crop. It would need to go through all the necessary approval processes. If it passes those tests and if it is approved for planting, this potato could prevent many tonnes of pesticides and fungicides being sprayed on our land, increase yields and make a healthier crisp or chip.”

The TSL Potato Partnership Project is a public-private partnership. It combines scientific expertise from The Sainsbury Laboratory and the University of Leeds with commercial expertise from BioPotatoes UK Ltd, a small British company which aims to commercialise this technology in the UK to benefit UK farmers and consumers, and Simplot, a global agribusiness company that recently received US regulatory approval for its first generation Innate™ potato.

Back to List »
Share |