Crop Biotech Update

Potatoes Show Promise for Meeting Climate Change Challenges

February 5, 2014

A new research conducted by the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) shows that potatoes are excellent tubers in extreme environmental conditions. In the study led by ARS agricultural engineer David Fleisher, the team measured how potato plants would respond to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and the increasingly erratic rainfall patterns expected to result from global climate change.

The team conducted two outdoor-chamber studies to evaluate effects of short-term drought cycles at current and elevated CO2 levels. In both studies, 11-day drought cycles were applied before tuber formation began and around 10 days after tuber formation began. The two studies were conducted in different dates to allow the scientists to evaluate how variations in sunlight during the drought periods affected plant response.

The researchers observed significant differences in plant response, which they attributed to the variation in sunlight. The plants in the first study had a 30- to 200-percent increase in total potato production, depending on CO2 levels and water availability. They also noted that the cyclic droughts resulted in lower levels of dry-matter and leaf-area production. They concluded that drought stress before tuber formation probably enhanced the future delivery of carbon, water, and plant nutrients to the tubers instead of to the stems or leaves—and that this response increased under elevated CO2 levels. Averaged across all drought treatments, tuber yield from plants growing under elevated CO2 levels was as much as 60 percent greater than that from plants growing under current CO2 levels.

For more details about this research, read the ARS news release at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/feb14/potatoes0214.htm.