Days after the US announced its approval for GE potatoes, public sector scientists in the UK said that field trials are expected to begin this summer on a GE potato, dubbed the “Super Spud.” Engineered at the Sainsbury Laboratory, a government-funded research institute based in Norwich, the GE potato is not only free of fungal diseases and other pest problems, but will also have less acrylamide than conventionally grown potatoes.
The Independent reported that field trials of the much-awaited tuber will not be announced until after the UK’s elections due to public sensitivity of the research. The potato has been called the “Super Spud” because it introduces not one, but multiple genes, and consolidates them into a single potato that brings benefits to both growers and consumers.
According to The Independent, three genes introduced into the potato will target a fungal disease called late blight resistance, which often requires farmers to use harmful and costly pesticides—sometimes spraying crops up to 25 times per season. “Deploying one gene is not enough because the pathogen tends to become resistant so we’re trying to deploy three different resistant genes at once that recognize different parts of the pathogen which would make it much harder for the pathogen to evolve,” Jonathan Jones of Sainsbury Laboratory told The Independent.
But the engineering of the “spud” doesn’t end with late blight resistant. Sainsbury scientists have also added two genes to impart resistance to nematode worms, another significant source of crop loss. Additionally, three further consumer-directed genetic alterations protect the tubers against bruising, and lower the risk of acrylamide chemicals forming when potatoes are fried.
To learn more about the GE potato, read the Guardian’s Johnjoe McFadden’s “Don’t fear the super-spud, we need it to feed mouths.”