Potato breeding doesn’t turn out a lot of winners. A breeder may find something with commercial value in just 1 out of 200,000 plants. Jeffrey Endelman is trying to improve those odds through the same genomic strategies used in the livestock industry.
Endelman, who runs the University of Wisconsin’s potato breeding program, spoke at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention on Jan. 31 at the Hershey Lodge.
Potato breeders typically stick with a particular parent for several years, so the goal is to pick a good one, and pick it as fast as possible. “It’s like interest. It compounds over time because the cycle is getting shorter,” Endelman said.
Endelman has adopted the genomics approach used by dairy farmers and other livestock producers. Genomics uses genetic and historical data about an organism’s ancestors to predict how it will perform. Dairy farmers have used this strategy to, for instance, rapidly increase the percentage of butterfat in milk.
But dairy genomics draws on data from millions of cows. Endelman has data on just 600 clones and 5,000 DNA markers in potato-chip varieties, and even fewer for russets and red potatoes. The traits he’s interested in for the chipping varieties include yield, median weight and color when fried.
“The more traits you stack, the probability of finding something which is excellent in all regards goes down with each one in an exponential way,” Endelman said.