British scientists are developing a genetically modified “super spud” free of fungal diseases and other pest problems, as well as being potentially healthier than conventionally grown potatoes.
Field trials are expected to be announced in June after the general election because of the public sensitivity of the research, which is expected to be vociferously opposed by anti-GM campaigners.
Researchers at the Sainsbury Laboratory, a government-funded research institute based in Norwich, have already conducted field tests on a GM potato with a single additional gene. They have now drawn up plans to insert up to eight genes into a commercially-popular variety of potato, such as Maris Piper or Desiree.
Three of the additional genes will be targeted against a fungal disease called late blight, which can devastate potato crops and costs UK farmers £60m a year in control measures, such as spraying with harmful pesticides up to 25 times a season.
Two of the added genes will impart resistance to nematode worms, another important source of crop loss. There will be three further genetic alterations which will protect the tubers against bruising as well as lowering the risk of potentially harmful acrylamide chemicals forming when potatoes are fried.
The previous field trial, which ended in 2012 after three years, tested a gene transferred into potatoes from wild Solanum plants, which are related to potatoes and tomatoes. The gene conferred limited resistance to late blight, which causes worldwide potato-crop losses of about £3.5bn a year.
However, in order to prevent the fungus itself from developing resistance to the GM trait, it is now necessary to incorporate two further genes that will enable the GM crop to remain disease-resistant for many years to come, said Professor Jonathan Jones, the head of the project.
Read full original article: Trials of GM ‘super spud’ scheduled after election due to public sensitivity