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Sparring with late blight; project looks to knock out this devastating disease

Potato, versus fungus;fungus wins, TKO. Phytophthora infestans is an aggressive foe wiping out entire potato crops each season.

The fight against late blight globally is an expensive one its purse is hefty, two studies conducted in 2005 and 2006 put thetotal loss (direct and through fungicides) at between $3 and $5 billion peryear (Judelsonand Blanco, 2005;Haldaret al, 2006).

Adjusted to today’s dollar tat’s between $3.9 and $6.3 billion. That’s a lot of spuds. Forgoing the financial cost, it is perhaps thevalue of the potato as a food source that places the bout against late blightin the center ring. As global population is projected to exceed 9 billion by2050 (UN-DESA), food production will need to increase to meetthe demand to feed our growing world. Potatoes can be a real contender inmeeting this increased food need.

Realizing the need to jab at the late blight problem, the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership led by Michigan State University has stepped into the ring with the development of a 3 R-gene (R = resistance gene) late blight resistant potato. Somewhat of an anchor punch, not unlike the well-executed, perfectly-timed counter-punch Muhammad Ali used in his historic first round KO over Sonny Liston, this potato contains the insertion of late blight resistant Rpi-blb2, Rpi-vnt1, and Rpi-mcq1 genes from wild potato varieties to pack a triple threat and send late blight down for the count.

“The expectation of the project is to commercialize and bring to market the 3-R gene potato in farmer-preferred varieties, to small-holder farmers in Bangladesh and Indonesia where light blight is difficult to control and can lead to severe crop loss,” says Dr. David Douches, Project Director. “The introduction of this potato is poised to provide food security which is a significant socio-economic benefit for both the farmers and their countries.” To read more about the project goals please view the complete article here (pdf)

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