2 April 1999

Potato vaccine from virus gene

SCOTTISH scientists have successfully "vaccinated" potatoes with a gene from potato mop top virus to produce a resistant crop.

The exercise is one of several examples of genetic modification benefits outlined to delegates at the "Crop Protection in Northern Britain" conference in Dundee last week.

There are no chemical controls for spongospera, the fungus which causes powdery scab and transmits PMTV, said SCRIs Hugh Barker. But screening of Pentland Marble and Saturna modified with the gene confirms they are PMTV-resistant. Field trials will begin soon in Sweden and Denmark.

"We now have the technology to combat this problem," said Dr Barker. "The next test is to convince growers they are worth growing and consumers that they are worth eating."

Colleague George Mackay said GM technology was just another tool in the plant breeders armoury. Already the SCRI has isolated genes conferring resistance to potato viruses X and Y. Now, by genetic manipulation, any variety can be made resistant. "Personally I cant see any objection to moving potato genes around by biotechnology.