HOT potatoes! Genetics seek to improve dud spuds

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Whether you prefer them mashed, fried, baked or roasted, potatoes are one of the most popular vegetable crops with an annual total production of 41.3 billion pounds in the U.S. alone. While several spud varieties are enjoyed year-round, potatoes are being celebrated this September not only for National Potato Month, but for what one researcher at Michigan State University (MSU) is doing to improve the crop world-wide.

Potato Researcher, David Douches and his team have recently developed new potato varieties including those with enhanced nutritional value and those that result from reduced pesticide use, and use more sustainable growing methods. According to Douches, this success can be attributed to the mapping of the potato genome, an international team effort lead by Robin Buell, MSU plant biology professor. This now allows researchers to find genetic markers for desirable traits within potatoes, leading to the breeding of a more sought-after crop.

This is important because although more than 500,000 potato varieties exist world-wide (or 500,002 if you include Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head) their consumption, according to Douches is changing as Baby Boomers are moving out of the kitchen and Millennials are taking over and looking for a more unique, convenient and visually appealing potato option.

Because of this, Douches and his team have also developed varieties with new colors, one which resembles fireworks, and sizes that capture the interest of today’s generation complete with new names to go along, including “Purple Haze” and “Spartan Splash.” The team’s work also consists of teaching international students how to grow pest- and drought-resistant varieties that have the potential to fight hunger and improve food security in countries around the world, such as Brazil, Iraq, Columbia, Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan.

With National Potato month already in full swing, take some time to celebrate this month by learning more about MSU’s Potato Breeding and Genetics program or enjoying a popular potato dish.

 

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