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Making a potato variety heat tolerant could be as simple as switching a single gene

Making a potato variety heat tolerant could be as simple as switching a single gene

The workflow of the stem cutting tuberisation assay (left).
Effect of heat stress on tuberisation potential (right): Tolerant potato varieties form a tuber both at the high and the low temperature, sensitive varieties only at the lower temperature.

June 22, 2017
Potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat; more than a billion people worldwide eat potato, and global crop production exceeds 300m tonnes each year.

However, the crop is particularly vulnerable to increased temperature, which is considered to be the most important uncontrollable factor affecting growth and yield.

Changing Climate

Increased frequency of heat stress, droughts and floods negatively affect crop yields beyond the impacts of mean climate change, with impacts that are larger and occurring earlier, than predicted using changes in mean variables alone.

This is important in the context of Global Food Security as well as being particularly relevant to the Scottish potato seed industry.

The Scottish industry must produce products for climatic zones that are already seriously affected by elevated temperatures and drought as well as preparing for future climate changes more locally. As the higher yielding cultivated varieties grown in temperate regions largely derive from coastal Chilean stock, most UK varieties have low resistance to extremes of heat and water stress.

For these reasons the cell and molecular sciences abiotic stress research group work is focused on the genetic, molecular and biochemical characterisation of traits associated with sustainable crop development under changing climatic conditions.
Scientists at the James Hutton Institute and the University of St Andrews have developed a technique to ‘engineer’ heat tolerance in potato crops, potentially providing potato breeders with a valuable tool in their quest to create varieties suited to the requirements of growers, industry and retailers.

By comparing many different types of potato, scientists at the Institute have found a version of a gene involved in the heat stress response that is more active in potato types that can tolerate high temperature. The team went on to show that the switch that turns the protective gene on is different in the heat tolerant types.

Dr Mark Taylor, project leader at the Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences group in Dundee and corresponding author of the study

Dr Mark Taylor, project leader at the Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences group in Dundee and corresponding author of the study:

“Our results identify a novel version of a gene that codes for a heat shock protein as a significant factor influencing yield stability under moderately elevated temperature.”

“The challenge now is to introduce this version of the gene to potato breeding programmes for the development of a more resilient crop.”

“This research will assist breeders in developing heat tolerant varieties, particularly important for seed exports to warmer countries.”

Publication

Trapero-Mozos, A., Morris, W.L., Ducreux, L.J.M., McLean, K., Stephens, J., Torrance, L., Bryan, G.J., Hancock, R.D. and Taylor, M.A. (2017) Engineering heat tolerance in potato by temperature-dependent expression of a specific allele of HEAT-SHOCK COGNATE 70. Plant Biotechnol. J., https://doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12760.
Professor Derek Stewart, AgriFood Business Sector Lead at the James Hutton Institute:

“Once realised this research will offer huge humanitarian and economic opportunities, and should ultimately ensure supply in a changing environment for susbsistence farmers through to the large commercial potato processing operations.”
The research was funded by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme and BBSRC grant BB/M004899/1 as part of the ERA-CAPS project HotSol.
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The James Hutton Institute is an international research centre based in Scotland.