Researchers decode the complex genome of potatoes

Das Erbgut der Kartoffel ist äusserst komplex. Forschenden ist es nun erstmals gelungen, dieses vollständig zu entschlüsseln. (Themenbild)

The study analyzed the genomes of individual pollen that bumblebees usually collect for pollination. Although the traditional potato that existed more than a hundred years ago is popular, it highlights the lack of diversity among the dominant varieties.

“Potatoes are becoming part of the basic nutrition system around the world,” said Corbinian Schneiberger, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (MPIPZ). The tuber is increasingly influential in Asian countries. Potato varieties that are more productive and resistant to climate change “will have a major impact on global food security in the coming decades.”

Low variety makes potato plants susceptible to diseases. This was especially evident during the Irish famine of the 1840s. Since only one variety was grown, almost the entire potato crop was destroyed in the soil for years. It does not resist the newly emerging drought.

Intricate potato genome

In the 1950s and 1960s, plant breeders succeeded in significantly stabilizing the yield of staple foods such as rice and wheat. However, there was no development comparable to that of potatoes.

Researchers say this is due to the complex genetics of potatoes. Instead of claiming one copy of each chromosome, as in humans, the potato receives two copies of each chromosome from each parent, resulting in four copies of each chromosome.

This means four more copies of each gene, making it very difficult and time consuming to create new species with the required combination of individual characteristics. So the reproduction of the potato genome was much more challenging than in humans.

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For this reason, researchers led by Schneiberger analyzed the genomes of individual pollen cells. Unlike leaf cells, these contain only two copies of each chromosome, which facilitates reproduction.

With the knowledge of the complete DNA sequence of potatoes, it is now easy to identify the gene variants responsible for the required or undesirable traits.

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