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The future of potato breeding? UMaine professors trying to develop potato varieties using new DNA-based tools

Two professors at the University of Maine in Orono are working on breeding new potato varieties. Hannah Yechivi reports for News Center Maine that professor of crop ecology and management in the School of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Greg Porter, and assistant professor of plant genetics with the School of Biology and Ecology Dr. Han Tan are studying how to make more varieties using a new DNA-based tool.

“In this greenhouse, we are producing new potato varieties of our standard cultivated potatoes,” Dr. Porter said. “We extract the seeds from this fruit to get new plant material.” Right now, the process is very slow and time-consuming. “We have to spend 10 to 12 years selecting in the field, testing at many locations in the U.S., to find out what ones out of those thousands of new individuals might be useful for new varieties,” Dr. Porter said.

The new DNA-based tool will hopefully help develop new potato varieties quicker, in five to six years, half the time currently needed. The goal of the project is to generate DNA-based marker data and combine their normal data from the field, apply that information using computer-based models, and do predictions on what the best parent plants are to speed the development of new potato varieties.

Dr. Porter said their work is important for many reasons. “Because potatoes are a very important crop, new varieties are worth millions of dollars, and so developing new varieties is really important, it’s important for consumers, better quality potatoes, potatoes that are produced with less risk for the environment and its important to growers because they can more efficiently grow potatoes,” said Dr. Porter.

Dr. Porter and Dr. Tan are also focused on developing potato varieties resistant to diseases and pests. Over the course of the project, the researchers will analyze 600 potato varieties.

Source: News Center Maine. Read the full report here. Also watch a video.

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