Researchers are decoding the potato genome

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Researchers are decoding the potato genome. Environmentalists fear the increase in genetically modified potatoes.

Scientists have decoded the potato genome. Special properties such as resistance to pests could thus be specifically improved, the researchers hope. Opponents of genetic manipulation fear a significant increase in the development of genetically modified potatoes.

Deciphering the genome of the potato enables a variety of new approaches in the development of new types of potatoes. For the first time, it was possible to completely sequence a plant from the genus of asterids (group of covered seed plants), the scientists write in the current issue of the specialist journal "Nature". By deciphering the blueprint of the potato, the development of genetically modified varieties with special properties is made possible, the researchers report. However, this is extremely controversial in the population, as it has not been finally clarified which long-term risks can be associated with the genetically modified potatoes.

Complete decoding of the potato genome In large parts of the world, the potato is a staple food. According to the World Food Organization (FAO), more than 300 million tons of potatoes are harvested every year. In Germany, too, potatoes have been an essential part of the general food base since the 18th century. Almost 100 scientists from almost 30 international research institutions have now sequenced the potato genome and published their results in the journal "Nature". The researchers analyzed the sequence of the genetic components in two genetically different potato varieties and combined the data obtained. This resulted in complete sequencing of the potato genome. The team led by Robin Buell from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan (USA) has also succeeded in identifying the genes that play a key role in the special properties of potatoes. The researchers discovered various sequences that are crucial, for example, for storing starch, protecting against pests and diseases or developing a characteristic tuber. In this way, deciphering the potato's genetic makeup could help to develop new potato varieties that deliver higher yields or are better protected against diseases and pests, the researchers report.

Genetically modified potatoes extremely controversial However, the development of new, genetically modified potato varieties is still extremely controversial. After the company BASF received a cultivation license for the genetically modified potato "Amflora" from the responsible EU Commissioner for Consumer Protection, John Dalli, and it was planted extensively for the first time last year, environmental protection associations and numerous farmers reacted with massive criticism. The Naturschutzbund (NABU) criticized the approval of "Amflora" as superfluous, since conventionally grown potatoes already had similar properties to the GEN potatoes. In addition, environmentalists warned that the antibiotic resistance gene implanted could possibly cause comparable resistance in bacteria. The transfer of the corresponding hereditary genes to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract cannot be ruled out, according to the statement of the Federal Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND) at the time.

Spread of genetically modified plants feared It is also unclear how the genetically modified plants will spread in the environment. Numerous safety measures should help to avoid crossing with other potato plants. However, with the previous genetically modified crops, such as the Roundup Ready plants from Monsanto, which were made resistant to the Roundup-Ready (glyphosate) plant exterminator, the massive spread in the environment could not be prevented. The so-called transgenic contamination has reached terrifying proportions and, according to the critics, has already reached the "cradle of cultivation" in Mexico, for example with maize. In the mother country maize there is the greatest variety of different maize varieties, but US researchers have also discovered maize contaminated by transgenic sequences in the remote regions. Deciphering the potato genome is already fueling new fears among environmental protection associations and opponents of genetic engineering. Significant improvements in growth and pest resistance may be achieved, but massive spreading in the environment is feared in the same breath. In addition, the conventional potatoes would be increasingly displaced if the new options were exhausted, not only the fear of environmental protection associations but also of numerous farmers. (fp)

Also read:
Petition against agro-genetic engineering successful
Initiative mobilizes against genetic engineering
Genetic engineering: maize dangerous for humans?
Genetic corn: contaminated seeds discovered

Image: Gerhard Frassa /

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Video: An Introduction to the Human Genome. HMX Genetics

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