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Researchers ‘engineer’ heat tolerance in potato crops

Dr Mark Taylor, Cell and Molecular Sciences group (c) James Hutton Institute
“This research will assist breeders in developing heat tolerant varieties, particularly important for seed exports to warmer countries”

Potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat; more than a billion people worldwide eat potato, and global crop production exceeds 300m tonnes each year. However, the crop is particularly vulnerable to increased temperature, which is considered to be the most important uncontrollable factor affecting growth and yield.

Scientists at the James Hutton Institute and the University of St Andrews have developed a technique to ‘engineer’ heat tolerance in potato crops, potentially providing potato breeders with a valuable tool in their quest to create varieties suited to the requirements of growers, industry and retailers.

By comparing many different types of potato, scientists at the Institute have found a version of a gene involved in the heat stress response that is more active in potato types that can tolerant high temperature. The team went on to show that the switch that turns the protective gene on is different in the heat tolerant types.

Dr Mark Taylor, project leader at the Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences group in Dundee and corresponding author of the study, said: “Our results identify a novel version of a gene that codes for a heat shock protein as a significant factor influencing yield stability under moderately elevated temperature.

“The challenge now is to introduce this version of the gene to potato breeding programmes for the development of a more resilient crop.

“This research will assist breeders in developing heat tolerant varieties, particularly important for seed exports to warmer countries.”

Professor Derek Stewart, AgriFood Business Sector Lead at the James Hutton Institute, commented: “Once realised this research will offer huge humanitarian and economic opportunities, and should ultimately ensure supply in a changing environment for susbsistence farmers through to the large commercial potato processing operations.”

The research was funded by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme and BBSRC grant BB/M004899/1 as part of the ERA-CAPS project HotSol.

Paper: Trapero-Mozos, A., Morris, W.L., Ducreux, L.J.M., McLean, K., Stephens, J., Torrance, L., Bryan, G.J., Hancock, R.D. and Taylor, M.A. (2017) Engineering heat tolerance in potato by temperature-dependent expression of a specific allele of HEAT-SHOCK COGNATE 70. Plant Biotechnol. J., https://doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12760.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.