12 September 1997

Geneticists give vision of disease-free future

SUNLIGHT and water could be the only requirements for effective season-long pest and disease control in potato crops of the future.

"These are astonishing claims but Monsanto has already genetically engineered resistance to colorado beetle into Russet Burbank. This has full US and Canadian regulatory approval," says Jack Dunnett of Caithness Potatoes.

The next step is to combat insect transmitted virus diseases. Varieties able to shrug off blight and bacterial soft rot will be available early in the next millennium, it is claimed.

Food safety will be an issue, but if genes from an edible donor plant, such as cowpeas or radish, are used he cannot see how they could be harmful. "It may actually be safer to use genes from cowpeas than from wild potatoes which are poisonous," Dr Dunnett concludes.n