21 February 1997

Potato genetics

GENETIC engineering could provide real benefits to potato growers when combined with the latest fungicide chemistry.

Naturally occurring proteins which suppress disease attack have been found in the seeds of some plants, explained Simon Bright, who manages a team of 60 research scientists at Zenecas Jealotts Hill research station.

By inserting genes which code for those proteins into crop plants disease resistance could be improved. When combined with new strobilurin fungicides like azoxystrobin (Amistar) that could bring significant benefits to crops which are susceptible to devastating diseases such as potato blight.

Genes have already been inserted into oilseed rape successfully.

and it worked very well and at a high level to suppress disease attack. This could be very applicable for crops like potatoes where a lot of money is spent on blight control each year," said Dr Bright.

Significantly, the plant proteins have new modes of action, which are different from agrochemicals, so minimising the risks of fungi developing resistance.