GM potatoes heading to a store near you

 

A genetically modified (GM) potato could go on sale in British supermarkets within four years. A German agrochemicals company has taken the first steps towards European approval of a GM potato that is resistant to late blight, a fungal disease that exacerbated the Irish potato famine of the 1840s.

BASF Plant Science, based in Limburgerhof, submitted documents on the safety of the potato to the European Food Safety Authority yesterday. It will assess the impact of the product on humans, animals and the environment.

If approved, the new potato, called Fortuna, will then be considered by the European Commission, which could decide whether it can be grown and sold across all EU member states, including Britain, as early as 2014 or 2015.

Ten years ago, public opposition to GM food across Europe prevented the planned introduction of herbicide-tolerant crops developed in the US. BASF believes it can persuade the public to accept its GM potato, which has two extra genes taken from a wild strain that grows in the mountains of Mexico, because of its potential benefits to the environment in reducing the need to use fungicidal sprays against late blight.

"Potato farmers will be able reduce the use of fungicides dramatically. Instead of spraying 10 or 16 times per crop, the farmer will only need to spray two or three times to control fungal infections such as late blight," said BASF.

"Fortuna is focussed for a market introduction in Europe only, because Fortuna is a potato variety adapted to the climate and cultivation conditions in Europe. We focus on regions where the late blight pressure is high. But late blight is a problem in all potato-growing regions and therefore we will apply for commercial cultivation in all EU 27 countries and outside the EU for import."

Over the past six years, BASF has carried out late-blight field trials with Fortuna in the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, France, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Germany. It has also carried out extensive food safety tests on laboratory animals to satisfy concerns that the potato is safe to eat.

Late blight, caused by a fungus which invades potato crops in wet summer weather, causes the loss of up to 20 per cent of the annual harvest, weighing 14 million tonnes and costing £2.1bn.

How they did it

The first stage in creating the blight-resistant GM potato was to identify the precise genes responsible for conferring fungal resistance in wild potatoes. Once these were identified, scientists could synthesise the genes artificially in the laboratory using a "gene machine".

The next step involved injecting these artificial copies of the natural genes into a commericial potato variety. To do this, scientists used a soil bacterium called Agrobacterium tumefaciens which has a circular strand of DNA, called a "plasmid", that it can inject into plant cells.

Scientists exploited this trait to inject a plasmid containing the synthesised fungal-resistance genes into the commerical potato plant to create the GM Fortuna variety.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?