New study finds potato plants can be ‘primed’ to tolerate heat stress

Dr Mark Taylor, Cell and Molecular Sciences group (c) James Hutton InstitutePotatoes are particularly vulnerable to increased temperature, considered to be the most important uncontrollable factor affecting growth and yield. Elevated temperature is known to affect multiple processes in potato plant physiology including tuber development and yield. In a new study published recently in the journal Planta, scientists at the James Hutton Institute and the University of St Andrews say they have discovered that potatoes, in common with many plant species, undergo a powerful adaptive response that enables survival at temperatures that are lethal when plants are not ‘primed’. According to lead author of the study, Dr Mark Taylor at Hutton, this response is called ‘acquired thermotolerance‘ and so, when plants are exposed to a moderately high temperature, they become tolerant of more extreme temperature conditions. 

“Our work defines the time course for acquiring thermotolerance and demonstrates that light is essential for the process,” he says. “In all four commercial tetraploid cultivars that were tested, acquisition of thermotolerance by priming was required for tolerance at elevated temperature. Accessions from several wild species and diploid genotypes did not require priming for heat tolerance under the test conditions employed, suggesting that useful variation for this trait exists”.

This research will assist breeders in developing heat tolerant varieties, particularly important for seed exports to warmer countries. The work relates to earlier research on how to ‘engineer’ heat tolerance in potato crops – see this report.

An abstract of the latest study can be found on the Springer website. Dr Mark Taylor can be reached at for further information.