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Transgenic potato resistant to virus

Argentina produces about 2.5 million tons of potato per year (© IFAD/Giuseppe Bizzarri)
Argentina produces about 2.5 million tons of potato per year
© IFAD/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Argentine scientists have developed a genetically modified potato, resistant to potato virus Y (PVY). PVY infections can be devastating, reducing crop yields by 30 to 80 per cent in the most severe cases. The virus causes mottling discoloration of the leaves, affecting photosynthesis which leads to plant stunting. In severe cases, potatoes display a black ringspot on their peel (tuber necrosis) that renders them unmarketable.

In field tests, while 70-80 per cent of traditional potato varieties developed the virus, the new varieties were not affected by PVY. Almost 2,000 resistant plants were tested in different regions of Argentina over a period of six years in order to determine their safety and efficacy. The new potato varieties displayed the same agronomic features, biochemical composition and yield compared to non-transformed potatoes, rendering the new crops practically identical.

The transgenic lines were developed by Argentina's Institute of Investigations in Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology (INGEBI-CONICET), and are currently awaiting approval to be sold commercially. For Fernando Bravo Almonacid, the lead researcher, this endeavor should boost production and increase incomes for farmers. "Producers from whom we leased the land (to conduct the) field trials were delighted with the results, because these plants were very productive and not susceptible to PVY," he explains.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, potatoes are the fourth-most-consumed food crop in the world. Argentina produces about 2-2.5 million tons per year, mostly to supply the domestic market.

Written by: Ana Belluscio

Date published: March 2012


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