APGC welcomes project to develop precision breeding pipeline in potato

The Advanced Plant Growth Centre are pleased to announce a new research project working in collaboration with Lincoln-based R&D company B-Hive Innovations and Branston Ltd., a leading supplier of potatoes and other fresh produce to UK retailers.

The APGC will additionally partner with researchers in the James Hutton Institute Biotechnology facility and James Hutton Limited to deliver new technologies aimed at accelerating precision breeding in potato.

The new research project, called TuberGene, is funded as part of UKRI’s National Engineering Biology Programme and aims to harness the power of gene editing to address pressing challenges and secure a sustainable future for the potato industry.

The UK potato industry produces around 5 million tonnes of potatoes each year but faces significant hurdles, including producing a significant number of potatoes that don’t meet commercial specifications, costing millions annually. Additionally, changing consumer preferences have caused fresh potato sales to gradually decline, as people opt for quicker-cooking alternatives like rice and pasta.

With new legislation allowing the commercial development of gene edited crops in England and Wales, this project presents an exciting opportunity to transform the industry. Researchers will focus on two key goals: reducing bruising-related discoloration and making potatoes quicker to cook. These improvements aim to enhance potato quality, cut down on food waste, and meet the evolving needs of consumers.

However, the true potential of the project lies in the development of an improved pipeline for precision breeding in commercial potato cultivars allowing the rapid introduction of desirable traits into commercial cultivars and obviating the need to introgress traits from less developed germplasm that requires multiple generations to cross out deleterious characteristics.

A key part of the project involves sequencing the genome of the Maris Piper potato, a beloved variety in the UK. This foundational work will pave the way for future targeted gene editing to enhance other desirable traits.

Dr. Rob Hancock, Deputy Director of the APGC and JHI project lead, emphasized the importance of new breeding technologies in safeguarding home grown supply for future generations:

“Gene editing and other precision breeding technologies offer unprecedented opportunities to respond to rapidly changing growing environments. This proof of concept project targets commercially significant consumer traits but the technology developed can be equally targeted to resilience traits allowing future potato cultivars to thrive in a changing climate. These technologies get to the heart of what the APGC hopes to deliver.”

Dr. Rob Hancock

Dr. Andy Gill, General Manager of B-hive Innovations, is enthusiastic about the project’s potential impact: “The UK potato industry is facing significant challenges, and it’s crucial that we find innovative solutions to ensure its long-term viability. This project represents a major step forward in our efforts to address issues such as bruising-related losses and changing consumer preferences.”