Biotech Crops

Biotech Crops

The conception some consumers have of biotech crops as “Frankenfoods” is not going to be easy to change. But researchers are making headway with developments that could be the key to increased consumer acceptance of genetically modified (GM) potatoes.

While biotech potatoes haven’t been grown in the U.S. since 2001, in 2008, growers in 25 countries planted 310 million acres of other biotech crops, according to Walter De Jong, associate professor in the department of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University. Potatoes could be added to that acreage in the near future.

Marker-Assisted Selection

De Jong is quick to note that even if biotech potatoes become more accepted, the expense ($5 to $10 million per cultivar) of bringing them to market under the current regulations likely will hinder wide-scale production.

“Only the cultivars with large acreage will ever be transformed under the current regulatory framework, and so there’s only a handful that you could ever recoup your investment on,” he says. “For niche markets, or even in the Northeast where I’m a breeder, that just isn’t going to fly.”

Marker-assisted selection (MAS), however, is a new, promising technology that is becoming more affordable, even for public sector potato breeders, according to De Jong. DNA markers make it possible to identify the offspring with the most potential by evaluating the genes they carry.

One of the most recent developments that bodes well for MAS is a draft of the potato genome sequence, which was just released last year. “To a first approximation, this allows us to know what genes potato has, and how many copies of each gene it carries,” De Jong says. “Pinpointing genes of interest is now a lot easier than it used to be.”

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