B.C. Develops `Super Potato'

Published online: Dec 14, 1999
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University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada researchers claim they have developed a genetically modified super potato that resists both bacteria and fungi.

Professors Bill Kay and Santosh Misra of the biochemistry and microbiology department led a seven-member team on a five-year project that artificially reproduced a naturally occurring gene that fights microbes that cause crop damage.

The development means potatoes could be stored for 10 times longer. Kay called it a great breakthrough in potato development.

The researchers spliced proteins known as cationic peptides into two table varieties, Desiree and Russet Burbank. The peptides kill rot-causing bacteria and fungi without affecting the plants.

The research team has applied for patents on two methods of introducing the peptide gene into the plants. One involves splicing the gene into a bacteria which is introduced in the soil and absorbed by the plants.

The other involves a gene gun that bombards a leaf or stem of the plant at high pressure with tiny particles of the gene attached to microscopic gold particles.

Of the controversy over genetically modified food, Kay said the risks are infinitesimally small compared to the benefits. He said every technology has its perceived risks.

One of the benefits, Kay noted, would include the ability to provide food in Third World countries where long-term storage is a major problem.