The complex genome of the potato, after five years of work, has now been sequenced by genetic scientists. According to scientists, it could lead to the rapid development of a gamut of disease-resistant varieties.
The potato is considered to be the world’s fourth most important food crop, so it is vital for world food security, especially as we head towards a world population of 9 billion. The genome of the potato is a highly heterozygous autotetraploid, which means there are four copies of every chromosome. Apparently the potato consists of more than 39,000 protein-coding genes.
Potatoes are growing in importance, especially in so called developing countries. They are surprisingly economical when compared to other major food crops such as rice, wheat and maize (also known as corn).
In order to form the Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium, twenty-six research institutes around the world united. The project has resulted in several important findings, one of the most important of which is the identification of more than 800 genes related to disease-resistance. These genes could be beneficial for fighting several devastating diseases such as potato cyst nematode and potato blight.
Findings have also suggested that singling out these genes will make it easier to develop new varieties of the humble yet complex potato. Scientists have indicated that genome sequencing of the potato will assist in improving its quality, nutritional value, and yield. It could help to reduce the amount of time required to breed new varieties.
It is worth noting that sequencing the potato genome does not necessarily mean radical genetic engineering of the potato has to ensue, although it’s possible. Sequencing could be used to improve usual breeding techniques, with the aim of making plants more resilient in various ways.