Researchers using potato DNA to develop new varieties

Researchers with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension are using plant DNA to develop new varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Published: Jan. 7, 2021 at 6:07 PM EST
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ORONO, Maine (WAGM) -

Researchers with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension are joining scientists, both nationally and internationally, to study potato genetics. Kathy McCarty has more on how the information will help County growers in this week’s County Ag Report.

Two University of Maine researchers are part of a team of plant geneticists and breeders working to develop tools that will help Maine scientists and farmers become more efficient in breeding new cultivars and bringing novel, improved potato varieties to market.

“What we’re trying to do is develop improved new varieties and - and then make those available so that they can be used to benefit growers and consumers and the industry,” says Gregory Porter, Professor of Agronomy at the University of Maine.

Research begins in the greenhouse with the cross pollination of two plants, and culminates after years of study with seed production that carry the positive characteristics of both parent plants.

Porter says, “The crossing is one step, but it takes a lot of years to screen and determine what the - what the most favorable potato - new potato varieties are, and then it takes quite a bit of - of investment, by both the university and then stakeholders like the - like seed growers and Maine Potato Board and - and others, to actually get them commercialized.”

It’s a proven process, similar to other North American potato breeding programs. The project will take advantage of DNA-based technology, that can identify disease-resistant qualities and more.

“We can now start to get this DNA marker-based information on enough materials in a breeding program so that we can start to identify favorable genetic markers for traits of interest,” says Porter.

Working with scientists in other states and countries will help broaden participants’ knowledge and ability to develop more resilient crops.

“Being in Maine, we don’t have expertise and being part of the proposal allows us to tap into these different programs and people who basically have a lot of experience,” says Han Tan, Assistant Professor of Plant Genetics at the University of Maine.

Faculty at Texas A&M University are leading the project, which is funded with a $4-point-3 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Kathy McCarty, NewsSource 8

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