Late blight expert: ‘How do you disarm Phytophthora?’

Plant breeders regularly claim to have developed a new potato variety that is resistant to the harmful micro-organism Phytophthora infestans (see inset). By cross-breeding they have introduced a resistance gene that they think will keep the little fungus-like pathogen out. But Francine Govers, professor in Phytopathology and a leading expert on Phytophthora, never makes these kinds of claims. She knows that the stubborn pathogen cannot be stopped with a single resistance gene and will get around this new defence barrier sooner or later. So, Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the Netherlands is looking for heavier weaponry with which to protect potatoes from Phytophthora infection. Firstly, Govers and colleagues at the Laboratory for Plant Breeding are looking into how they can bolster the potato’s defences using new techniques. Secondly, they are looking at how they can deactivate Phytophthora’s weapons, the so-called effectors. Read more

University of Idaho potato expert shares information on vine kill methods and timing

Long ago and far away, most potato growers relied on mechanical vine kill – flailing/chopping and rolling with heavy tires or other implements to break the stems, says Pamela J.S. Hutchinson, Associate Professor at the University of Idaho Aberdeen Research and Extension Center. Late blight and other reasons, such as need for faster kill, have changed grower practices, she writes. Now most of the industry relies on chemical vine kill or a combination of chemical and mechanical kill. Why concerns with late blight? Mechanical methods can break up vines into smaller pieces, sometimes still green, that are likely to remain in the field during harvest. In addition, although there’s not much, if any, hard data at this time to support the idea that late blight spores are distributed with this type of mechanical operation, recommendations are to NOT flail/beat/roll before vine-kill product application. So the question is, regardless of the threat of late blight in the area, does chemical vine kill w/ no mechanical provide enough reduction of plant material for efficient harvest? The answer, says Anderson, is yes! Read more

Funding for spud research in the US could benefit Maine growers

Image result for potato maineThe Maine potato industry and growers across the nation could benefit from a financial victory that U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) secured in the fiscal year 2019 Appropriations Minibus that recently passed in the Senate. Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, advocated legislation that will include $2.75 million in funding for potato research and $20 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Integrated Pest Management Program, which supports the work of the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension Potato IPM Program. The $2.75 million in funding is a $250,000 increase over last year. Collins called it a significant victory, especially for the state’s potato farmers. She noted that it passed in the Senate by an overwhelming majority of 83-15. The bill also includes language authored by Collins to give schools the flexibility to provide potatoes through the School Breakfast Program. Read more

Researchers from Colombia and Canada developed nutritious, disease-resistant potato varieties

Man holding potatoes A marriage of scientific knowledge and traditional practice has led to the development of three highly nutritious, robust, and productive yellow potato varieties. Researchers from Colombia and Canada are working with public and private sector partners to increase production and consumption of this nutritious and all-natural food staple across Colombia and beyond. Malnutrition and iron deficiency are prevalent among many rural Colombians, especially young children. That will change with the introduction of three high quality yellow potato cultivars (Criolla Ocarina, Criolla Sua Pa and Criolla Dorada) selected by farmers, breeders and scientists.  Continue reading

Crispr: Why gene editing is the next food revolution

Related imageZachary Lippman advanced the selective breeding process of tomatoes with a little nip and tuck of the plant’s own DNA, and now the “edited” plant is about to bear fruit in the field. “There’s a long way to go, but what we have able to do in the last four or five years is unbelievable,” says Lippman, a professor of genetics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “It’s science fiction.” He created the plants using gene editing, a technology—based on a natural process—that allows researchers to cut out certain bits of DNA in order to control traits. The cell’s genetic structure then repairs itself automatically, minus the targeted gene. His tomatoes are now programmed to produce double the number of branches and, as a result, twice the tomatoes. Read full National Geograhic article

University aims to strengthen Canadian potato industry

The University of Lethbridge is opening its potato research lab doors to partners and local producers.It’s an industry that professionals say injects more than $1 billion into Canada’s Alberta province’s economy each year. “The potato industry in this province is not just in southern Alberta, but province-wide,” said Terence Hochstein, executive director with the Potato Growers of Alberta. “We have about 55,000 acres of production within this province, making us one of the largest growing areas in Canada.” Hoping to expand on that market, the University of Lethbridge in Alberta has opened the doors to its Potato Research Lab on Friday, which showcases the work being done to support producers when growing the tasty spuds. “It’s a program that has been 10 years in the works,” Hochstein said. “It’s between the industry, the Potato Growers, Cavendish Farms, Lamb Weston, McCain and the university. It’s a collaborative project to create a first-of-its kind program in Canada, specifically focusing on potato research.” Read more

PAA Honorary Lifetime Member ‘put his heart into spud research’

SteveLoveIt’s been 13 years since Steve Love was involved in potato research and development but his effect has not been forgotten. During last month’s Potato Association of America banquet in Boise, Love, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Idaho’s Aberdeen Research and Extension Center, was recognized with the PAA’s Honorary Lifetime Membership for his work in potato research. These days Love is Idaho’s consumer horticulturist specialist helping develop the native plant program at the Aberdeen center. For 20 years he led the UI’s potato variety development program at Aberdeen. During that time Love and the close-knit team of researchers in the Tri-State program were responsible for 12 new varieties, including the Ranger Russet, currently the third most widely grown potato variety in the United States. Love said that receiving the PAA’s Honorary Lifetime Membership was a great honor. Read more

Understanding soil microbes could boost potato yields

Soil is sometimes considered the last knowledge frontier because so little is known about the microbial and fungal communities that live within it. What we do know is that in just a small handful of dirt live thousands upon thousands of microorganisms, some helpful to plant production, some not. Soil health and crop production go hand in hand, which is why scientists, like Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Claudia Goyer, are working hard to better understand it. Her work on soil microbes using next generation sequencing could help potato growers increase production. Goyer, a noted soil scientist and potato researcher, has been using next generation sequencing to better understand microbial and fungal communities in soil. In the first of two projects, she looked at how different potato cultivars impacted bacterial communities and pathogens, like common scab. Read more

New President at the Potato Association of America

Image result for rich novy potatoFor four days, beginning on Sunday, July 22, more than 300 people, from 16 countries came to the Boise for the 102nd annual meeting of the Potato Association of America (PAA). Shelley Jansky, 2017-2018 PAA president and a research scientist with the USDA-ARS and horticulture professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that attendance was so good that they had to close registration because they couldn’t accommodate any more people. Succeeding Jansky as PAA president was Rich Novy, USDA-ARS research geneticist at the Aberdeen, Idaho facility. Novy said that he wants to continue the PAA’s role continuing to develop collaboration among researchers and the industry and encourage young researchers to stay involved in the potato industry during his one-year term as president.  Continue reading

Plants use calcium to send internal warning of attacking aphids

Scientists at the John Innes Centre have discovered how plants send internal warning signals in response to an attack by aphids. They found that when the insect feeds on a leaf it triggers the plant to admit calcium into the damaged cells. This small flux of calcium prompts the plant to signal that an attack is underway, and a larger amount of calcium is then mobilized from within the cell. These discoveries were the result of a collaboration between Professors Saskia Hogenhout and Dale Sanders. Professor Sanders elaborates on the findings: “We now know that when an aphid feeds on a leaf, the plant uses calcium as a warning signal. This signal forms part of the plant’s defense mechanism.” Understanding how plants respond and ultimately defend themselves from an attack is important for identifying ways in which these pests can be managed. Read more

Range of potato experiments underway at Maine’s Aroostook Research Farm

Farmers, researchers and members of the public gathered at the University of Maine’s Aroostook Research Farm in Presque Isle Wednesday to learn about the latest in potato research. “There’s a tremendous number of experiments going on,” said Greg Porter, a University of Maine agriculture professor who also leads the farm’s potato breeding program. Attendees at the field day learned about a range of trials underway at the farm, including research into different fertilizer applications, fungicide treatments for late blight, beneficial soil fungi, and the relatively new potato pathogen known as dickeya, which has created problems for Aroostook County’s seed potato industryContinue reading

James Hutton Institute: New findings could lead to climate-resilient potato varieties in future

Image result for james hutton potatoes in practiceResearch at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland has led to the discovery of genetic variations which can help protect potato crop yields at high temperature, potentially providing potato breeders with a valuable tool in their quest to create varieties resilient to heat stress. The findings were discussed by Dr Mark Taylor at the Potatoes in Practice 2018 event this week. Stress-resistant crops can be an important resource to preserve food security in the face of increased temperatures, such as those brought about by the recent UK heatwave. Dr Taylor said: ““Heat tolerant varieties are especially important for Scottish seed exports to growing markets in warm countries. Although most potato varieties are sensitive to heat there is significant variation in response to heat stress between different potato cultivars, and recent research at the Hutton has led to the discovery of genetic variations which can help protect potato crop yields at high temperature.” Recent leaps in the understanding of genomics, genetics and crop science, funded by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Fund, have made this type of genetic screening possible. Read more

Breeding breakthrough: Simplot to use ARS developed technology to speed up breeding of disease resistant potato varieties

Related imageAgricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Albany, California, have found a way to streamline the process that scientists use to insert multiple genes into a crop plant, developing a reliable method that will make it easier to breed a variety of crops with vastly improved traits. The technology is expected to speed up the process for developing new varieties that are better equipped to tolerate heat and drought, produce higher yields and resist a myriad of diseases and pests. “Making genetic improvements that were difficult or impossible before will be much easier because we can now insert not just one or two genes, but multiple genes, into a plant in a way that will lead to predictable outcomes,” said Roger Thilmony, an ARS molecular biologist in Albany.  Continue reading

CRISPR news: J.R. Simplot first ag company to receive gene editing licensing rights; potential for new potato varieties

J.R. Simplot Company, based in Idaho in the US, announced that it has acquired gene editing licensing rights that could one day be used to help farmers produce more crops and make grocery store offerings such as strawberries, potatoes and avocados stay fresher longer. J.R. Simplot Company on Monday announced the agreement with DowDuPont Inc. and the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, developers of the nascent gene editing technology. Simplot is the first agricultural company to receive such a license. “We think this is a transformative technology — it’s very powerful,” said Issi Rozen, chief business officer of the Broad Institute. “We’re delighted that Simplot is the first one to take advantage of the licensing.”  Continue reading

Precision agriculture technology detects late blight with help from IBM Watson

PlantLink is a research network in the area of plant sciences in Sweden, joining Lund University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). One of the regional projects uses precision agriculture techniques to detect late blight. Scientists at SLU were looking for an automated, efficient and environmentally friendly way to detect late blight early. IBM helped the scientists develop a prototype decision-support system that combines visual and near-infrared image analysis with climate data to predict how likely it is that late blight will strike. The images are analyzed by Watson Image Recognition through IBM Cloud.  Continue reading