FORTIFYING POTATOES with carotenoid pigments could improve dietary nutrient intake from a staple food and give significant health benefits, according to a new study.

Experiments by the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) have found that biotechnology could be used to “boost” potato carotenoid content by six times the normal level.

The red, orange and yellow pigments are normally found in fruit and vegetables such as carrots, citrus fruits, peppers and tomatoes, but are in relatively low levels in potatoes, according to the SCRI.

Carotenoids are believed to help protect against cancer, heart disease and eyesight deterioration in the elderly, the SCRI claim.

“Where potato is an important staple crop, nutritional enhancement will provide major benefits,” said Howard Davies, a co-ordinator of the European Commission‘s SAFE FOODS consortium.

“This is not always possible using traditional breeding approaches. But it is up to individual countries to decide how to use the technologies.”

Potatoes are an important part of the British diet and contain a number of health benefits already, according to the British Potato Council‘s Mike Storey.

The solanum phurega species has been conventionally bred to contain higher carotenoid levels and is already available in the UK through specialist outlets, he said.

He believed the application of increased carotenoid levels in potatoes was generally good news for the industry, but believed it was possible to incorporate these features via conventional breeding techniques.

Agreeing with Professor Davies, Mark Taylor, the SCRI‘s project leader said that the development showed the potential biotechnology offered to improve nutrient levels in a staple part of human diets.