Across Regions, Breeding, Europe, UK, Ireland, News March 2024, Research, Studies/Reports, Varieties, Weather/Climate

Breeding the super spud: How scientists are striving to create climate-resilient potatoes

In the quest to breed tougher, more resilient potatoes, the ADAPT project in Europe is making strides in understanding how potatoes grow and how this process can be affected by challenging weather conditions. By diving deep into the genetics of potato growth, researchers from various labs have made exciting discoveries that could lead to the development of potato varieties that can withstand environmental stress and still produce bountiful harvests.

This work is described in an article titled, “Refining the understanding of the mechanisms of potato tuberisation“, published here.

At the heart of potato growth is a process called tuberisation. This process begins in the leaves with the help of daylight, which triggers the production of a special protein called SP6A. This protein then travels through the plant to the underground stems, or stolons, where it kick-starts the activation of certain genes that lead to the creation of potatoes.

However, when the temperature gets too high, the plant’s ability to produce the SP6A signal drops, leading to fewer potatoes. While heat is a known troublemaker, other environmental stresses also affect potato yields, though the exact mechanisms are still being uncovered.

SP6A is part of a larger family of proteins that play roles in various plant development stages, like flowering and root growth. Interestingly, for SP6A to effectively cause a plant to start making potatoes, it needs to work alongside other proteins in a complex dance that ultimately switches on the potato-forming genes.

In their groundbreaking work, the ADAPT team tinkered with the levels of two genes, TFL1B and TFL1C, which are relatives of SP6A. They found that reducing these genes led to plants that not only started making potatoes earlier but also produced more of them, even under less-than-ideal conditions.

Further experiments showed that while TFL1B and TFL1C could step in for SP6A in certain protein complexes, they couldn’t trigger potato formation on their own. It turns out they actually compete with SP6A, and by dialing them down, less SP6A is needed for the plant to start tuberisation.

Another key discovery was the role of a gene called GERMIN3, which when boosted, led to earlier and more abundant potato production. GERMIN3 plays a crucial role in managing the sugar supply to the developing potatoes, a process essential for their growth.

These insights are a big deal for the future of potato farming. By identifying TFL1B, TFL1C, and GERMIN3 as critical players in potato growth, scientists now have specific targets to aim for when developing new potato varieties that can thrive in challenging conditions. This could mean using traditional breeding methods or cutting-edge techniques to create potatoes that can keep up yields even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

In essence, this research is not just about understanding potatoes better; it’s about securing food for the future by making crops that can withstand the challenges posed by climate change.

Source: ADAPT. Read the original article here
Cover image: Credit ADAPT

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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