The Potato Genome Sequence has been released by international group of scientists. The resulting ‘blueprint’ of how the potato works could revolutionise breeding programmes.

An international research consortium which includes New Zealand scientists have mapped 95 per cent of the humble potato genome. Potato, a key member of the Solanaceae family, is a close relative of tomato, pepper and eggplant.

It is the world’s third most important crop and the most important vegetable crop. Access to the potato genome sequence, the “genetic blueprint” of how a potato plant grows and reproduces, is anticipated to assist potato scientists in improving yield, quality, nutritional value and disease resistance of potato varieties.

More importantly, the potato genome sequence will permit potato breeders to reduce the 10-12 years currently needed to breed new varieties.

New Zealand’s Plant & Food Research is an original partner in the Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium (PGSC), and leader of the work is Dr Jeanne Jacobs who is also a member of the PGSC steering committee. Dr Jacobs says New Zealand will benefit from the genome sequencing as scientists gain insights into the genetic control of important attributes including disease resistance, nutritional value, colour and flavour.

“If you know exactly which part of the chromosome holds the genes for a particular trait, then you can precisely target crop improvements using molecular markers and so speed up breeding,” she says. “The research is also yielding genetic information important to the improvement of other crops that share some of their DNA sequences with potatoes,” says Dr Jacobs.

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