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By MICHAEL POLLITT, Agricultural editor
Thursday, August 9, 2012
A trial plot of genetically-modified potatoes at Norfolk’s John Innes Centre has withstood the worst attack of late blight seen for decades.
Early results from the third year of a GM potato trial at Colney, near Norwich, has shown graphic evidence of success.
Jonathan Jones, group leader at the Sainsbury Laboratory, said that late blight “was wreaking havoc in all the plants that are non-GM”.
Now, the project team plans to submit a report on the trials to the Royal Society’s proceedings journal later this year once the full results have been fully analysed.
The trial involved 192 potato plants in June 2010, which was repeated last year, and again earlier this summer. Prof Jones said that the trial was designed to test the plant’s ability to withstand late potato blight.
A resistance gene, which occurs naturally in a wild potato relative, was used to modify the Desiree potatoes.
He said that the resistant varieties seemed to be withstanding the pressure while non-GM plots of Maris Piper and Desiree had been infected.
With blight costing potato growers an estimated £3.5bn of damage worldwide every year, Prof Jones said that the long-term aim was to develop varieties which could withstand some common diseases. “Our current plan is to seek more funding to put blight-resistance and other useful traits into Maris Piper which is the most favoured variety,” he said.
With about 50pc of the country’s potatoes grown for the processing industry, it could potentially benefit one of the top performing varieties, Maris Piper, which accounts for about 15pc of national production.
A test of the same blight resistant gene, Rpi-vnt1, which was put into Desiree potatoes by scientists in the Netherlands, started in the Irish Republic late last month. The first GM trial to be staged in more than 20 years involves a 10 square metre plot in County Carlow. It is taking place in a country, which lost an estimated million lives in the Irish Potato Famine, between 1845 and 1847 when the potato crop was destroyed by late blight.
The trial took place inside a three-metre high security fence, which cost £20,000. Once analysed, the potatoes will be destroyed and will not enter the food chain.
With a reputation as one of the toughest people in business, many stores would shudder at the thought of getting the Mary Portas treatment.