Biotech Updates

GM Potatoes with Improved Freezing Tolerance

September 14, 2007

Potato, the fourth most important food crop, is being cultivated worldwide, especially in places with relatively cool climates like the Andean tropical highlands or countries in the northern temperate zone. Sadly, potatoes are frost sensitive species incapable of cold acclimation. A brief exposure to frost can significantly reduce yield, while hard frosts can completely destroy entire crops. Thus, improvement in potato's freezing tolerance of just a few degrees would be of considerable benefit.

Although genetic donors, particularly the cold-acclimatized wild potatoes of South America, exist, transfer of freezing tolerance to cultivated potatoes proved to be unsuccessful because of the complex genetics of the trait and the introduction of undesirable agronomic properties. By introducing the AtBCF genes for freeze tolerance from Arabidopsis with an activation control (promoter) solely for cold conditions, scientists successfully obtained several potato lines with increased freezing tolerance of up to -5 °C.

In addition, Tony Chen and colleagues, who authored the study, also found out that the attachment of the cold-inducible promoter minimize the expression of agronomically undesirable traits, like delayed flowering and retarded growth, previously attributed to the AtBCF genes. The use of the gene-promoter tandem in introducing freeze tolerance to other low temperature sensitive crops, is currently being studied.

Read the abstract at Subscribers to the Plant Biotechnology Journal can access the full paper at