Crop Biotech Update

Genetic Mechanism Allowing Potatoes to Grow in Northern Latitudes Discovered

March 13, 2013

An international team of scientists led by Wageningen University has discovered the genetic mechanism that allows potato plants to grow and flourish in northern latitudes, enduring the cycle of long days and short nights during spring and summer. The team said that the newly discovered mutations in a single potato gene are likely to have contributed to the widespread success of the potato, which is the third most important food crop in the world today.

Although potato was domesticated some 10,000 years ago, the crop was initially restricted to the farming communities in what are today Chile, Bolivia and Peru, and was brought to Europe only after the Spanish conquest. Since the European growing season of spring and summer is characterized by long days and short nights, native South American potato varieties only begin making tubers in autumn, when the days last for 12 hours or even less. However, modern potato varieties show a wide variation in the timing of tuber formation, with early varieties starting as early as April. The mutations in the newly discovered regulator of tuber formation allow potatoes to escape the original short day regulation mechanism suited to the Andes, so that potatoes can grow and be cultivated in northern Europe and other northern latitudes throughout the world.

The findings of this study has been published in the journal Nature, available at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature11912.html. The news release can be read at http://www.wageningenur.nl/en/show/Discovery-of-genetic-mechanism-allowing-potato-cultivation-in-northern-latitudes.htm.