ISU Researchers on Root Storage in Potato

In a study by David Hannapel, professor in horticulture at Iowa State University, the mechanism on how potatoes develop tubers was recently discovered. "We've always known that there was a signal activated in the leaf that was sent down the plant to activate tuber formation," Hannapel said. "But the identity of that signal has never been confirmed." Results of his recent study shows that a sunlight activated signal RNA molecule makes the Bel5 protein which moves from the leaves to the tubers and communicates to the plant to activate the pathway that leads to tuber formation. The Bel5 serves as the master switch that activates other genes for tuber formation underground.

In an expression experiment, the gene allowed the formation of more tubers in the genetically modified potato in a short span of time. Experiments are underway to fully understand and characterize the proteins that recognize mobile RNAs and the facilitation of their movements, as well as the specific controls associated with the gene. Guru Rao, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology stressed that the system can potentially be used to enhance crop productivity in potatoes considering that potato is the most productive food crop on the planet and is a critical staple in many developing countries.

For details of the study see press release at


This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)

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