BBSRC has agreed to fund a £382,000 project to study genetic mutation in potato; which could lead to improved varieties of one of the world's most important foods.
After wheat and rice, potato is the world's third most important food crop. By 2020 it is estimated that more than two billion people worldwide will depend on potato for food, feed, or income.
Despite this, the genetic study of potato has lagged behind many other plant crops. This three year project will develop the first 'library' of potato mutants which can be used as a resource for further genetics research and development of agriculturally valuable strains.
Dr Glenn Bryan from the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, Scotland, will lead the project.
He said: "Potato, despite its global importance as a crop, has never been subjected to the same types of mutational analysis as models and other crop plants. By making a library of mutants and using the genome sequence we can make great progress in understanding potato traits.
Dr Bryan said: "This is a very exciting time. We have some nice preliminary data but the grant allows us to do this on a much larger scale and I am excited to see our first mutant panel being developed in the near future. This should lead to several new collaborative links."
For any plant or animal some mutation of the genetic code occurs naturally, and in plant crops any resulting changes in the function of one or more genes can result in beneficial traits.
Developing mutants with desirable traits can therefore be a useful tool for crop scientists looking to breed those characteristics into a plant population.
However in potato this can be difficult as many species are 'tetraploid', meaning they have four copies of each gene, whereas most plants and animals only have two copies. Creating a potato plant that has a mutated version of all four copies of any one gene is extremely hard.
But Dr Bryan's team plan to use a 'diploid' species of potato, with two copies of genes, called Solanum verrucosum for their work.
They plan to create plants with two copies of various mutant genes, as the first ever mutant collection of potato: a valuable research tool in genetic studies.
The mutant panel will be assessed for variation in traits relevant to potato breeding such as; tuber characteristics, plant architecture traits, and tuber sprouting and a panel of around 100 interesting mutants will be selected for further study.
In pilot experiments some interesting mutants have been identified and these will be studied as part of the grant to test a new approach for isolating mutated genes.