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.

SolCAP’s Objectives
SolCAP, or Solanaceae Coordinated Agricultural Project is designed to bring together researchers from various disciplines. Researchers are currently working to develop molecular markers that can be used for applied potato and tomato breeding. Some of the group’s objectives include:

- Create an education program to train graduate students in genome-based breeding. This will result in a standardized database of phenotypes for key traits across 480 accessions of each commodity, accessible through the SolCAP and Solanaceae Genome Network (SGN) websites.

- Amplify outreach efforts by developing an eXtension Plant Breeding and Genomics Community of Practice (PBGCoP) to develop continuing education material aimed at practicing plant breeders, their staff, and seed industry professionals. SolCAP is creating a Web community (PBGCoP) and is providing leadership to foster cross-disciplinary and cross-commodity networking and collaboration to generate outreach materials for publication on eXtension.org.

- Collect standardized phenotypic data across multiple environments for tomato and potato. A standardized database of phenotypes for key traits across core collections of each crop will be linked to the genotypic data, accessible through the Solanaceae Genome Network website (SGN; URL 7).

- Develop extensive sequence data of expressed genes, and identify Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) markers distributed across the genome and associated with specific candidate genes for sugar, carbohydrate, and vitamin biosynthetic pathways.

- Establish centralized facilities for genotyping a core set of SNP markers in standard germplasm panels in tomato and potato. Develop a database of integrated and mapped markers and genotypes for at least 480 accessions for each crop.

- Address regional, individual program, and emerging needs within the Solanaceae community through a small grants program.

- Create integrated, breeder-focused resources for genotypic and phenotypic analysis by leveraging existing databases and resources.
 

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.”

SolCAP

De Jong also is working on a project called SolCAP (Solanaceae Coordinated Agricultural Project), funded by USDA. The goal of the project is to bring researchers from a wide variety of disciplines together to tackle larger agricultural problems. “SolCAP is working to develop a very large number of molecular markers that are useful for both applied potato as well as tomato breeding,” De Jong says.

As of mid-September, SolCAP had tested approximately 8,000 markers. “A big problem in developing markers that are useful for potato breeding is that potato has four copies of every chromosome, and that complicates the genetics a lot,” he explains. “Having 8,000 markers means even if you have to throw away a lot — which we will given the material — we’ll still have plenty to work with.”

De Jong is confident that biotech potato research and development will grow exponentially in the next decade. With the markers SolCAP has developed, along with the draft sequence of the potato genome released last year, potato geneticists and breeders are excited about the promise of using modern tools to identify genes that can be manipulated more efficiently. “I expect over the next five to 10 years, we’ll be able to discern a lot of relationships between markers and important traits in potato, like ability to make potato chips or french fries, or resistance to various diseases, which we’ve never been able to do before,” De Jong says.

 
“In an attempt to allay consumer concern about the presence of foreign DNA in GM potato, over the past 10 years methods have been developed that allow potato to be engineered without introducing any non-potato DNA,” De Jong says. Most notable, he adds, is research under way at the JR Simplot Company, one of the largest privately held international food processing companies in the world. Researchers there are focusing on modifying potatoes by adding just potato DNA back into potatoes, rather than taking genes from other species.
 
According to De Jong, the number of genes available to use as payload is increasing rapidly, as more genes are characterized and isolated in potato. “Perhaps the most interesting potato gene is from a wild potato species (Solanum bulbocastanum) that is resistant to late blight,” he says. While he doesn’t know how the new all-native potatoes will be received by consumers, De Jong does suspect that even if GM crops’ most strident opponents still won’t accept them, some consumers, once they know that the vegetables aren’t crossed with any foreign species, might warm up to the idea.

 

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories

All Vegetables Stories >All Fruits Stories >All Nuts Stories >All Citrus Stories >

The Latest

TomatoesProduction Reaches An All-Time High For Processing Toma…
August 29, 2014
A record high is predicted for the 2014 processing tomato crop. Read More
CitrusFlorida Department Of Citrus Knocks NPR Piece Over Juic…
August 28, 2014
Agency goes to bat for the industry regarding statement slighting OJ's health benefits. Read More
Disease ControlLate Blight Update Reveals Heightened Activity
August 28, 2014
While several states in the Northeast have confirmed the presence of late blight, the disease has not been reported in North Dakota or Minnesota. Read More
CitrusFlorida Energy Firm Charged Up About Citrus Biomass Pot…
August 28, 2014
Machine called a game-changer when it comes to a cost-effective, efficient way for tree removal and re-purposing. Read More
EquipmentNew Tractors Improve Maneuverability And Operator Contr…
August 28, 2014
The Magnum Rowtrac tractors from Case IH meet growers’ cropping needs through a wide variety of row spacing and belt options.   Read More
NutsCalifornia County Passes Ordinance To Protect Walnut Gr…
August 27, 2014
Verification of ownership needed to complete sales of valuable nuts. Read More
NutsAlmond Growers Hit By Russian Import Limits
August 27, 2014
Growers reflect on changes to export market in light of produce ban. Read More
Farm ManagementLeadership And Management Expert To Speak At California…
August 27, 2014
Daniel Goleman will make presentation at California State University-Fresno. Read More
CitrusNational Scientific Summit On Herbicide Resistant Weeds…
August 27, 2014
Topics to be covered include the economics of proactively managing herbicide resistance, education and outreach efforts, and incentives and regulatory initiatives. Read More
FruitsFlorida Organic Group Dedicated To Serving Growers, Com…
August 27, 2014
Education and development programs are plentiful for interested producers. Read More
VegetablesExperimental Herbicide Technology Blasts Weeds In Rows
August 27, 2014
The technology uses an air compressor to spray corncob grit on both sides of a crop, killing young weeds. Read More
Disease ControlFungal Disease Outbreak Hits Pacific Northwest Vegetabl…
August 27, 2014
An outbreak of blackleg, light leaf spot, and white leaf spot can be significant problems in several vegetable crops.   Read More
CitrusClean Water Conundrum: Ditch The Rule Or Ditch The Myth…
August 26, 2014
Regulation inundation causing a rising tide of confusion for farmers. Read More
BerriesMichigan State University Extension Offers Tips To Prev…
August 26, 2014
Humidity, rainy periods conducive to disease development. Read More
FruitsSpotted Wing Drosophila Populations Rising In Michigan
August 26, 2014
Extension researchers advise berry growers on trapping, salt testing to take stock of pest population. Read More
Apples & PearsNorthwest Pear Crop Estimate Revised Upward
August 26, 2014
Washington and Oregon pear growers forecast a larger size crop than that originally estimated. Read More
VegetablesAgrium Acquires A Controlling Interest In Biotech Compa…
August 26, 2014
The company also acquires stake in Agricen Sciences as part of strategic effort to expand their offering of integrated, next-generation plant health technologies. Read More
Insect ControlCover All Angles When Taking On Threecornered Alfalfa H…
August 25, 2014
Learn how to ID, the survival and spread, and management methods for this insect pest. Read More