Crop Biotech Update

Modern DNA Technology Applied on 19th Century Potatoes

September 26, 2012

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom have applied modern DNA techniques on late 19th century potatoes to show how late blight survived between cropping seasons after the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. The team extracted DNA from the archived 19th century potato samples of Rothamsted scientists. The DNA was then analyzed for presence of Phytophthora infestans, the potato blight pathogen.

Bruce Fitt, plant pathology professor at the University of Hertfordshire and formerly at Rothamsted Research, said that "the potato samples enabled us to apply modern DNA techniques to better understand late potato blight and the implications for today's food security. The analysis of these late 19th century potato samples is the earliest proof of how this disease survived between seasons in England."

Late blight of potato rapidly destroys the leaves of potato crops and was responsible for the Irish potato famine. With growing concerns over food shortages and climate change, late blight remains a serious problem in potato production. 

The abstract of their paper in Plant Pathology is at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-3059.2012.02680.x/abstract. The news release is available at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120919083403.htm.