A trial plot of genetically-modified potatoes at Norfolk’s John Innes Centre has withstood the worst attack of late blight seen for decades.

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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.

10 comments

  • I'm afraid the GM potato scientists have been beaten to it. Non-GM blight resistant varieties – which have NOTt received tens of thousands of pounds of public money or any attention from the GM obsessed media - have performed remarkably well against blight this year. All six Sarpo varieties and three from Bioselect (which can be viewed at their open day on 158) seem to give consistent protection against several blight strains which, with its apparently indifferent performance last year, the GM variety has not demonstrated. Couple this with the knowledge that the blight strain changes, and that conventionally resistant strains can defend themselves with more than one line of defence, which the GM variety cannot. It has only one inserted gene which will quickly become useless as the strain changes. In fact isn't it a bit early in the day for the publicity hungry Prof Jones to be blowing his trumpet? We are still in the blight season; he has only one year’s data and he is already talking up the results. This smacks more of PR than science. Why has the BBSRC’s decided to fund these trials and ignore the non-GM approaches? They are the fraction of the cost and consistently effective Shouldn't a responsible research funding body be looking at these as well as GM?

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    Meg Noble

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

  • I should add that I've heard that Dr David Shaw of the Savari Trust, who produces the Sarpo blight resistence non-GM potatoes, has said this: "One of our problems is getting enough multiplied (expensive) to satisfy a growing demand for a low-input (low carbon footprint) spud. Another problem is that, no-one will fund breeders who must survive on thin air until royalties kick in with bulk sales. An interesting success we have had is with the amateur horticulture market. Sárpo Mira is now one of the biggest selling maincrop varieties and is grown by many thousands of satisfied customers up and down the country over the last two very blightly summers. We hope that these customers will start to ask for the same spud at their supermarkets. We shall see." So a clear indication there that such valuable research is starved of funds. I should also add that I'm not sure whether the JIC potatoes should be classed as a GM crop at all. Seems more like Cisgenesis and it might be a bit of PR slight of hand to headline it as a GM crop. That point though I'm sure is open for discussion.

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    Roger Mainwood

    Saturday, August 11, 2012

  • To: LARSON.E. WHIPSNADE re. your comment on non-GM blight-resistant Sarpo potatoes. "This variety may be good against blight but it is highly susceptible to other diseases...." Care to expand on that? What are your sources and what other diseases are you talking about? Everything I've read on them suggests the opposite.

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    Roger Mainwood

    Sunday, August 12, 2012

  • ***All six Sarpo varieties and three from Bioselect (which can be viewed at their open day on 158) seem to give consistent protection against several blight strains which,****. No farmer me , but even i know you are not telling the whole story. This variety may be good against blight but it is highly susceptible to other diseases....so not much use for large scale production. Farmers are good business men usually ,if your variety were any good they would be planting it large scale. At least so far we have been spared reference to those desperate cliches..." big pharma " and " frankenstein food " , the last resort of the clueless.

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    LARSON.E. WHIPSNADE

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

  • Good to hear from the Savari Trust with confirmation that LARSON. E WHIPSNADE's post was completely mis-informed. As I undersatnd it there are many other benefits to the Savari Trust's blight free potatoes as well. For instance Sarpo mira, in addition to very good resistance to foliage and tuber blight, is resistant to common viruses and black leg (another fungal disease). Its vigorous top growth means that weeds are shaded out cutting out the need for herbicides and its deep roots mean it can withstand drought periods and access nutrients from deep saving water and feritisers. Another positive is that it can be stored at ambient temperature because it does not sprout until late in store – this saves fuel. These qualities make them very attractive for the future when costs of fossil-fuel based inputs are rising. And yet The Sarvari Research Trust has not received any funding to help their breeding programme.

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    Roger Mainwood

    Monday, August 13, 2012

  • well said, Meg Noble, Dr. savari has cross bred potatoes for some 40 years and her expertise has led to a robust strain that is bred for northern European environs and soils. Prof. Jones trumpet blowing is explainable, he's obliged to glad hand the BBSRC's private backers, Lord Sainsbury and the Bill Gates Foundation need to keep up a certain level of positive PR, to justify their patent research. I have grown varieties of the Sarpo potato family and they perform well here in Norfolk.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

  • A bit more on the Sarpo potatoes. I think it is true that at the moment the Savari Trust who have produced them struggle to have them accepted by the potato industry for a number of reasons. The first is the cost problem of getting enough multiplied to satisfy a growing demand for a low-input (low carbon footprint) spud. Another problem is that no-one will fund plant breeders such as the Savari Trust who must survive on thin air until royalties kick in with bulk sales. They have has success with the amateur horticulture market. Sárpo Mira is now one of the biggest selling maincrop varieties and is grown by many thousands of satisfied customers up and down the country. It is hoped that these customers will start to ask for the same potato at their supermarkets. We should be grateful for the work of the Savari Trust. The sad thing is that there is little funding for plant breeding outside the large multinationals.

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    Roger Mainwood

    Sunday, August 12, 2012

  • The clueless? Just because you're either completely ignorant to what is going on in the world or approving of it, doesn't make others clueless. Perhaps you'd better add pharmachemical to your list.

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    Honest John

    Sunday, August 12, 2012

  • That's the joy's of selective reading, why not try reading something not written by Bill Gates, Caroline Spelman or her husband.

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    Honest John

    Sunday, August 12, 2012

  • Having worked on Sarpo varieties for more than 10 years with replicated field trials every year, I am confident that they are resistant to strains of blight in UK today. They are also resistant to common viruses and other potato diseases. It is quite wrong to say they are not grown because they are susceptible to other diseases. If we had large amounts of money to advertise and multiply more seed stocks, they would be grown widely. Instead we barely survive. BBSRC and many others do not give grants to breeders like us who are supposed to sell their varieties and levy royalties to generate funds for their research. Fat chance!

    Report this comment

    Sarvari Trust

    Monday, August 13, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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