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.

Gene bank

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.”

Readers' comments (3)

  • I'm afraid the GM potato scientists have been beaten to it. Non-GM blight resistant varieties – which have NOT received tens of thousands of pounds of public money or any attention from the GM obsessed media - have performed remarkably well against blight this year. All six Sarpo varieties and three from Bioselect seem to give consistent protection against several blight strains which, with its apparently indifferent performance last year, the GM variety has not demonstrated. Couple this with the knowledge that the blight strain changes, and that conventionally resistant strains can defend themselves with more than one mode of resistance which the GM variety will not be able to do.
    It has only one inserted gene which will quickly become useless as blight evolves. This declaration of triumph is a little premature though as we are still in the blight season; Prof Jones has only one year’s data and he is already talking up the results.
    Why has the BBSRC’s decided to fund these trials and ignore the non-GM approaches? It will not fund either UK conventional seed companies UK small research foundations. It is beyond their remit to support near market research, which this GM trial evidently is. It is also funding a crop with a patent that belongs to a Dutch researcher, and these trials will directly benefit breeding companies outside of the UK. Non-GM varieties are the fraction of the cost and consistently effective, shouldn't a responsible research funding body be looking at these as well as GM?

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  • the sad fact is that the people who have brought ther serpo potatoes here and worked on them did not receive any money for their research and may now have to give up. Irony: GM gets millions, because big companies are in it for huge profit, decent folk get nothing, because they are not going to patent their produce or make millions.

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  • Strange how in times of austerity millions are wasted on GM trial potato trials.

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