Plant Genetics
Ontario's hot weather keeps late blight in check but some growers are seeing sunburnt stems and heat stress in their potato crop. 
Published in Diseases
Wild potatoes acquired from a gene bank in Germany six years ago are producing promising results for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researchers trying to develop superior Canadian varieties with resistance to some of the most problematic potato diseases. 

Stronger potato varieties will increase yields for Canadian growers, which translates into higher profits.

Dr. Benoit Bizimungu, head of potato breeding at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre, said a number of hybrids bred from these wild varieties could be ready for industry trials next year. 

Bizimungu selected the German plants because of superior traits such as high yield, as well as strong natural resistance to PVY, late blight, drought, and insects like the Colorado potato beetle.

“Although the primary interest was multiple disease resistance and high yield potential, a number of progenies show a nice deep yellow flesh color, which is usually associated with carotenoids,” Bizimungu explains. This is great news for consumers who want more antioxidants in their diet.

“What is really exciting is that some of these wild species have never been used in potato breeding before now,” he says. “Using these new parents broadens the genetic base.”

“It’s good to have multiple sources for breeding, especially for things like late blight where it keeps changing.”

Dr. Bizimungu obtained this unique plant material as a result of his collaboration with potato geneticist Dr. Ramona Thieme of the Julius Kuhn-lnstitut (JKI) at the Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants in Braunschweig, Germany.

The imported species come from wild potato cultivars that originated in South America, the birthplace of the potato. 

Published in Traits and Genetics
EU-funded scientists have discovered genetic markers that could allow potatoes to be selected for their ability to be stored at low temperatures, keeping them fresh and avoiding the use of anti-sprouting chemicals.
Published in Research
The potato industry saw 15 selections from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's potato breeding program at the annual potato selection event on February 14 at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre. 

There are five french fry potatoes this year, two for the potato chip sector, six fresh market selections, and two potatoes with coloured flesh.

The star of the show may be a potato with the potential to replace the Russet Burbank, the king of potatoes. As the primary choice for french fries, Russet Burbank accounts for 70 per cent of potato sales to North American processors, and 20 per cent of the overall potato market. The new potato boasts a higher yield, adaptability to a variety of growing conditions, and good storage results.

This potato stands up well to Verticillium, a soilborne fungus that can cut into yield, especially in Atlantic Canada. It is also less prone to tuber defects, reducing the amount of waste in the field. 

“The tuber defect in this new variety is up to 50 per cent less than tuber defect in Russet Burbank,” says potato breeder Benoit Bizimungu. 

These improved features add up to higher profits for growers.

One of this year’s potato chip potatoes does well in various growing conditions and is ready for harvest early in the season - welcome news, especially in Ontario, where growers have been looking for locally adapted chip varieties to supply the lucrative snack food industry in the region.

There is even a potato with pink flesh for specialty markets.

Potato breeder Benoit Bizimungu believes these latest breeding innovations are poised to deliver "quantity" and "quality" to growers and processors, and "taste" to consumers.
Published in News
Chemicals in the leaves of potato plants, produced naturally by the plant, may hold the key to a new way in controlling Colorado potato beetles. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research scientist, Helen Tai (pictured here) has turned to the leaves growing on wild potato relatives – leaves that Colorado potato beetles won’t eat – as a new approach to keep the pest away.
Published in News
Israel's NRGene recently announced it was working with a team of researchers from Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands as well as commercial partners to create multi-genome mapping of potatoes.
Published in News
Those suffering from malnutrition in the global south could soon find help from an unlikely source: a humble potato, genetically tweaked to provide substantial doses of vitamins A and E, both crucial nutrients for health.
Published in Traits and Genetics
A genetically improved potato designed to have resistance to a devastating global plant disease has successfully come through the first year of field trials.

The field trial conducted by The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich involves incorporating late blight resistant genes from a wild potato relative into a cultivated Maris Piper potato. READ MORE
Published in News
Researchers from Ohio State University and the Italian National Agency for New Technologies have developed a "golden" potato with significantly increased levels of vitamins A and E.

Findings from a new study were published recently in PLOS ONE in an article entitled "Potential of Golden Potatoes to Improve Vitamin A and Vitamin E Status in Developing Countries."

The research team found that a serving of the yellow-orange lab-engineered potato has the potential to provide as much as 42 per cent of a child's recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 34 per cent of a child's recommended intake of vitamin E. For the full story, click here
Published in Technology
Examining the ancestors of the modern, North American cultivated potato has revealed a set of common genes and important genetic pathways that have helped spuds adapt over thousands of years.

Cultivated potatoes, domesticated from wild Solanum species, a genetically simpler diploid (containing two complete sets of chromosomes) species, can be traced to the Andes Mountains in Peru, South America.

Scientific explorer Michael Hardigan, formerly at MSU and now at the University of California-Davis, led the team of MSU and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University scientists. Together, they studied wild, landrace (South American potatoes that are grown by local farmers) and modern cultivars developed by plant breeders. For the full story, click here.
Published in Traits and Genetics
Representatives of the potato industry had a chance recently to view some potential new varieties that could someday find their way into Island fields.

Close to 50 industry representatives took the opportunity to take part in the annual Variety Day at Harrington Farm showcased potential entries for the Accelerated Release program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, variety trials conducted by the PEI Potato Board, as well as a tour of the organic potato acreage.

There was also a chance to view a soil building rotation trial being conducted in conjunction with the Enhanced Agronomy Initiative-- a fund established in 2016 by processing growers. READ MORE
Published in News
Chinese scientists will attempt to grow potatoes on the moon as part of a forthcoming lunar mission.
Published in Research
Whether its disease resistance, tolerance to stress in the environment or better cold-storage capabilities, research scientists have been incorporating wild potato genetic resources into breeding lines for years to develop more resilient potato varieties. At Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Fredericton Research and Development Centre, this practice is being increasingly refined in order to meet the needs of the industry which range from higher yields to disease and drought resistance.
Published in Traits and Genetics

Breeders try to combine all of the positive attributes, including improved levels of disease and pest resistance, or, at the very least, without unacceptably high levels of susceptibility. Photo courtesy of AAFC. 

One has dark pink flesh and red skin, making it rich in antioxidants and perfect for niche marketing. Another increases yields by as much as 35 per cent when compared with the industry standard Russet Burbank, which is good news for french fry processors. Several others offer particular disease and pest resistances.

Published in Traits and Genetics

May 25, 2016, 2016, Canada – A newly approved, genetically modified potato will not be grown commercially in Canada this year.

JR Simplot, the company that created the Innate potato, said Canadian approval came too late for farmers to plant them this season. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved the potatoes in late March. | READ MORE

Published in News

April 28, 2016, Prince Edward Island – An Idaho-developed potato recently approved for consumption by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency hasn’t been met with approval by some Islanders. | READ MORE

Published in Traits and Genetics

March 31, 2016, Canada – The organization that represents Canada’s major grocery chains says it has full confidence in selling genetically engineered foods that have been approved by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. | READ MORE

Published in News

March 22, 2016, Canada – Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have approved a genetically engineered potato for sale, said a U.S.-based company on Monday in announcing that its non-browning spuds could be in Canadian supermarkets by Thanksgiving. | READ MORE


Published in Traits and Genetics


Although many consumers aren’t aware of it, potatoes have a lot of good things going for them when it comes to human nutrition. For instance, potatoes contain vitamin C, minerals, fibre, protein and bioactive compounds, plus they help provide a feeling of fullness that discourages overeating. Now an Ontario project is identifying some especially healthy potato cultivars that could help win back health-conscious consumers.

The perception that potatoes are not a healthy food choice has resulted in decreased potato consumption and production in Canada, notes Reena Pinhero, a researcher in the department of food science at the University of Guelph. She is leading this project along with Rickey Yada, dean of the faculty of land and food systems at the University of British Columbia.

Pinhero explains the potato’s bad reputation is based on two factors and she puts those two factors in perspective: “Potatoes are generally considered as a carbohydrate-rich food contributing to high calorie intake and causing weight gain. The fact is a potato is mostly water, so if you don’t eat too many, then you will not take in too many carbohydrates or calories.

“The second bad reputation is their high glycemic index reported by some studies. However, potatoes are not that dense, so the glycemic load from an average serving of potatoes is actually not more than any other carbohydrate food.” Potatoes tend to have low-medium to high glycemic loads, with the exact value depending on things like the food preparation method, the cultivar and where the potatoes were grown.

The project, which runs from 2014 to 2017, could help boost potato’s health reputation. “The project’s overall objective is to identify early maturing, coloured potato varieties with health benefits (low glycemic index and glycemic load, and high phytochemical antioxidants) and acceptable sensory qualities, that are affordable, accessible to low- and middle-income families, provide a price premium to growers, reduce importation, and provide retailers with local food,” Pinhero explains.

The project focuses on cultivars that are both early maturing and coloured because both traits tend to be associated with enhanced nutritional attributes.

“Early maturing potato cultivars usually have a lower dry matter and low glycemic index due to a different starch structure. So early potatoes may be good candidates for low glycemic load foods,” Pinhero says.

“Potatoes generally contain many phytochemicals, such as various polyphenols, flavonols, anthocyanins, carotenoids, vitamins, et cetera. Coloured varieties, especially based on their flesh or skin colour, contain substantially higher amounts of these phytochemicals. These phytochemicals, which act as antioxidants, have [been linked to] many health benefits, such as providing anti-inflammatory effects and protection from cardiovascular diseases, many cancers and diabetes.”

According to Pinhero, early potatoes receive a premium price compared to late maturing varieties, but in Ontario at present, early fresh market potatoes are limited to white varieties. “The red and yellow varieties currently grown in Ontario don’t mature until September, creating a need for imports.”

Along with Pinhero and Yada, this collaborative project brings together several other researchers with diverse expertise, including Qiang Liu, Rong Cao and Benoit Bizimungu with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), and Alan Sullivan and Andreas Boecker from the University of Guelph. The project’s industry partner is Grand Bend Produce based in Grand Bend, Ont.

The researchers are currently testing 14 varieties, including two advanced lines developed by AAFC’s Fredericton Research and Development Centre. Four of the varieties have coloured flesh and skin, five have either coloured skin or flesh, and the rest have either white or creamy skin and flesh colour.

They are evaluating each variety for protein, total starch, various starch fractions, available carbohydrates, total polyphenols, anthocyanins, flavonols and antioxidant potential.

“The various starch fractions – such as rapidly digestible starch, slowly digestible starch and resistant starch – are evaluated to estimate the glycemic index and glycemic load. The total starch and starch fractions, especially the slowly digestible and resistant starch, are very important as they affect human health by reducing the glycemic load. For example, resistant starch acts as a fibre,” Pinhero explains.

Once the researchers have identified which of the varieties have the best nutritional qualities, they will conduct a sensory analysis of those varieties for consumer acceptance. As well, they are conducting marketing studies in collaboration with Boecker.

So far, they are making good progress on the nutritional analyses. “We have analyzed the various starch fractions and the estimated glycemic index and glycemic load. We have identified 11 varieties that have low-estimated glycemic load, and three that have medium-estimated glycemic load,” Pinhero says.

The data from the project’s first year show Purple Fiesta, Carling Ford, Ciklamen, French Fingerlings, Red Thumb and Yellow Star had the lowest values for estimated glycemic index and glycemic load. Next, the researchers will be repeating the analysis of starch, glycemic index and glycemic load, but with fewer varieties and different cooking methods, and they’ll be conducting the phytochemical analysis.

Multiple benefits
“We are excited that this research will bring out potato’s many healthy characteristics so the consumer can make an informed decision of a healthier food choice and the industry will also benefit from it,” Pinhero says.

She sees many potential benefits from the project for growers, retailers and consumers. Ontario growers will have more choices for early maturing cultivars, along with more opportunities for obtaining the premium price for early potatoes. And, at the same time, they’ll have more choices for nutritionally superior cultivars desired by health-conscious consumers. Retailers will have access to a greater variety of locally produced early potatoes and those varieties will be more nutritious. “Availability of [local] early maturing, coloured potatoes with health-promoting bioactives, high antioxidant potential, and low glycemic index and glycemic load, would benefit the table potato market, potentially expanding the [Ontario] market by $6.6 million,” Pinhero says.

The information resulting from the project could be used in efforts to educate the public about the nutritional value of potatoes. Such efforts could contribute to an improved health reputation for potatoes and to increased potato consumption in Canada over time.

Consumers will benefit from more nutritious, low-cost food options. “A recent study on vegetable cost metrics in the United States shows that potatoes and beans provide the most nutrient value, thereby providing affordable, healthy vegetables for low- and middle-income families,” she notes. “Along with lifestyle changes, these healthy potatoes could be part of a variety of healthier food choices for prevention of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and several forms of cancer.”

Funders for this project include the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Potato Cluster 2 of the AgriInnovation Program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Ontario Potato Board.




Published in Traits and Genetics


A potato extract that’s rich in beneficial compounds is looking very promising. In trials with mice, researchers at McGill University have found that this extract reduces weight gain and provides other important health benefits. Now, they hope to conduct clinical trials to see if the extract produces similar benefits in people.

In this research, Danielle Donnelly, a potato researcher in McGill’s department of plant science, has teamed up with Stan Kubow and Luis Agellon, who are both at McGill’s school of dietetics and human nutrition. The research had its beginnings in Donnelly’s research on genetic improvement of Russet Burbank, the number one processing cultivar in Canada.

Because Russet Burbank has limited fertility, traditional breeding techniques aren’t effective for developing improved lines. So, about 10 years ago, Donnelly and her research group developed a technique using tuber tissue to propagate plantlets that can differ genetically from the original tuber. These variants, called somaclones, can then be grown in the field and screened for various traits. Donnelly has produced about 800 Russet Burbank somaclones.

“I had been screening my somaclones of Russet Burbank for yield and processing characteristics after long-term storage, and doing the selections and realizing that the somaclone technology could be very helpful there,” Donnelly explains. “Then, in talking to Stan Kubow, I realized that we should also be looking at nutritional parameters because the processing industry, and the whole potato industry, needs to be more concerned about the health of their consumers.”

Donnelly and Kubow started collaborating on potato nutrient research. In one part of this research, they examined the mineral content of 16 cultivars, including chippers, fryers and table stock, grown at five locations. “We found there was a lot of variation between the cultivars. Potatoes are not created equal for minerals! Russet Burbank and Yukon Gold were particularly good,” Donnelly says.

They determined that one serving per day of Russet Burbank, Yukon Gold or Freedom potatoes provides a significant portion of the recommended daily intake for magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, iron, selenium and zinc.

In another part of their nutritional studies, Donnelly and Kubow determined the antioxidant levels in her top 25 somaclones that were best for yield and processing traits. In potatoes, antioxidant activity comes from vitamin C, a number of polyphenolics and other compounds. Out of the 25 somaclones, they selected the four that had the highest antioxidant activity plus a range of polyphenolic compounds.

From this screening and selection work, Donnelly currently has four advanced lines moving toward registration. She hopes to register the best one or two of those lines later this year. “All four lines have high yield, three of them do better than the Russet Burbank control in fry tests, and all have very high protein and high antioxidant capacity,” she notes.

Fat-fighting extract
In a different aspect of the potato nutrient research, Agellon, Kubow and Donnelly investigated the effects of potato polyphenols on diet-induced obesity. The possibility that eating polyphenols might control obesity may seem surprising, but obesity actually has a connection with inflammation. Research has shown that obesity results in low-grade chronic inflammation due to the reaction of certain cells to excess nutrients and energy.

As a first step, Kubow and Donnelly grew 12 different potato cultivars for several growing seasons and compared their polyphenolic contents. They found that Onaway and Russet Burbank had higher and more consistent polyphenol levels than the other cultivars.

Next, using these two cultivars, the researchers made an extract containing a mixture of potato polyphenols. “The extract concentrates the active ingredients, making it more likely to see the biological effects we were interested in,” Kubow explains. One dose of the extract has about 30 times the amount of polyphenols found in a single potato. The main polyphenol in the extract is chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to have anti-obesity effects in some situations.

Then the researchers conducted a feeding trial with mice to evaluate the effect of the extract. “The mice were fed a diet that is similar to what many North Americans consume; it is high in calories, high in fat, and high in sugar content. We wanted to see if these polyphenols, when given to mice that are ingesting this high-fat diet, would help in preventing obesity,” Agellon says.

One group of mice was fed just the high-fat diet. A second group was fed the high-fat diet plus the potato extract. And a third group was fed the high-fat diet plus an equivalent amount of a purified single polyphenol, either chlorogenic acid or ferulic acid.

“We were intrigued by a number of studies that tested single polyphenols reported to be active in some systems but that were not as effective when used in a purified form; it seems that the purified compound had lost its potency,” Agellon explains. “We wondered if the desirable effect associated with a food like potato and the polyphenols that it contains, is because of a combination of the different compounds in the food.”

Their hypothesis was that each individual polyphenolic compound produces a small benefit for a particular area of the body, like the liver, but multiple polyphenols ingested together affect multiple pathways, producing a synergistic effect with major health benefits.

Agellon says the extract’s benefits emerged quite quickly in the trial. “Midway through the 10-week study, we could see which of the groups had received the polyphenol extract. They had less weight gain and were much more active than the mice receiving the high-fat diet by itself.”

Kubow adds, “This effect wasn’t because the mice didn’t like the diet and didn’t eat it. They were eating as much or more of the high-fat diet [as the other groups of mice]. Normally, mice respond just like humans – if they eat a lot of fat, they gain a lot of body fat and body weight. But to our surprise, the extract had quite remarkable potency in inhibiting that, regardless of how much they ate.”

The individual polyphenols were not quite as effective as the extract in reducing weight gain, suggesting synergistic benefits from the mix of polyphenols in the extract.

The researchers are excited by the extract’s potential human health benefits. Agellon notes, “The extract could be a wonderful tool to help people suffering from obesity.” To move forward on this, they need to conduct clinical trials to assess the extract’s fat-fighting effect in people. “We’ve got a lot of data supporting this effect in animal trials and in some culture trials, but clinical trials are the key, critical step toward commercialization,” Kubow says.

Pollution protection
The researchers have also looked at the extract’s effect on another inflammation-related health problem: lung damage caused by air pollution. Kubow explains, “Inflammation is your immune system overreacting to various compounds, including pollutants. With air pollution, that overreaction causes damage in various tissues including the lungs. So our hypothesis was that the extract might be effective where people are overweight and exposed to pollutants at the same time.”

In this study, they fed two groups of mice a western-style diet, similar to the diet in the obesity trial but not quite as high-fat. For four weeks, one group was fed the high-fat diet, and the other group was fed the high-fat diet plus the extract. Then the mice were exposed to ozone for four hours, to replicate the effects of exposure to heavy smog. “We looked at their lungs 24 hours after that exposure because the body is continually overreacting with the inflammatory response. That allowed us to detect factors in the lungs associated with ozone damage and inflammation,” Kubow explains.

The results showed that the mice eating the potato extract had significantly less lung damage. “We think this study was an important first step to validate the use of this extract as a means of potentially having a supplement to combat air pollution, which would be the first such supplement,” Kubow says. “However, we need clinical trials for verification of the benefit in humans.”

Clinical trials are key
The researchers are currently seeking funding for clinical trials to see how well the extract fights obesity and lung damage in people. If those trials prove the extract’s effectiveness, then the extract could have commercial potential, for instance, as a dietary supplement or a cooking ingredient. So investment in the trials could be of interest not only to health agencies but also to the potato industry because of the extract’s value-added potential.

Donnelly sees a couple of ways the next steps in this research could help potato growers and processors. “First, there are the clinical trials, which would get a product out there. Secondly [with information on polyphenol levels in more cultivars] it could be that more potato growers could benefit because there is a lot of wasted potatoes – people growing small potatoes have big ones they can’t use, and big potato growers have little ones they don’t always know what to do with. It may be that some of these materials could be rescued from waste streams from processed potatoes. So there is a lot of potato that could be used for a product that no one has produced up until now, which is this extract.”

As well, a potato extract with proven health benefits might help enhance the health reputation of potatoes. Kubow says, “The public perception is that potato intake is bad for your weight, but we’re talking about potato decreasing the risk of overweight and obesity.”


Published in Research
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