The genetics of potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) and how they have adapted to European conditions have been studied through reconstruction from historical genomes, including specimens from the Museum’s Sloane Herbarium.
Originating from the highlands of the Andes, South America, potatoes were introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century. They were initially popular in Spain because they provided cheap sustenance for the poor. It wasn’t long before they were in demand throughout the continent as a food that was easy to grow and highly nutritious. Today, potatoes are a staple for people all over Europe.
Sandy Knapp, a Museum life sciences researcher, worked with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, Germany, (MPI Tübingen) to trace the history of genetic change in potatoes after their introduction to Europe.
‘We sequenced the DNA of 88 specimens ranging in date from 1650 to the present,’ says Sandy. ‘These included modern potatoes and historical samples from the Museum, as well as herbarium collected by Darwin during his voyage of the Beagle.’ A herbarium is a collection of plant species – many of the six million specimens in the Museum’s botanical collections are found in herbaria.