Early GM potato trial results show real promise
EARLY results from a three-year trial to genetically modify blight-resistant potatoes have been hailed a success by scientists.
Researchers from the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norfolk have developed varieties of potato which are resistant to late blight and remained healthy while traditional potatoes growing under the same conditions suffered.
Prof Jonathan Jones, who led the research, said the GM potatoes were thriving, while others were dying or had died.
He said the disease had ‘wreaked havoc’ among potatoes this year and the UK’s erratic weather conditions highlighted a need for GM potatoes.
Arable crops, and potatoes in particular, have been badly affected by the cold, wet weather over the last few months.
Although experts said it was too early to assess the impact on yields, the Potato Council said numbers would differ according to geographical region.
The GM trials started in June 2010 with 192 plants, and the trial was re-planted in 2011 and earlier this year.
Scientists wanted to test whether genes from wild relatives could successfully protect commercial potato varieties from late blight - the disease which caused the Irish potato famine - without the need to spray fungicides.
The trial was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and scientists hope their research will lead to the development of a bank of blight-resistant genes to use in future.
The Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) said the early results were an ‘encouraging demonstration’ of the potential for agricultural innovations.
ABC chairman Dr Julian Little said: “Without such innovations, Europe risks becoming a ‘museum of agriculture’, while expanding Europe’s ‘foodprint’ by increasingly relying on imports from around the world.
“British agricultural science is also one of our great national assets, representing an exciting growth potential for the UK economy, and is a key tool to help our farmers compete in the global agricultural market.”