Using genetics to find the best possible potato

An international team of researchers has assembled a “super pangenome” of potatoes to find the genes that make the best crop.

The super pangenome represents genetic data from 296 different types of potato, and could be used to spot genes that make potatoes more nutritious, or more resilient to disease and weather.

They’ve published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our super pangenome sheds light on the potato’s genetic diversity and what kinds of traits could potentially be bred into our modern-day crop to make it better,” says corresponding author Professor Martina Strömvik, a researcher at McGill University, Canada.

“It represents 60 species and is the most extensive collection of genome sequence data for the potato and its relatives to date.”

First domesticated in southern Peru nearly 10,000 years ago, the potato (Solanum tuberosum) has become one of the world’s most important crops.

The researchers believe their super pangenome, which includes species related to tuberosum, can help explain the potato’s evolution as well as genes that might improve it.

“Wild potato species can teach us a lot about what genetic traits are critical in adapting to climate change and extreme weather, enhancing nutritional quality, and improving food security,” says Strömvik.

The Canadian, US and Peruvian researchers drew data from gene banks to assemble their super pangenome.

“Scientists hope to develop something that can defend against various forms of diseases and better withstand extreme weather like lots of rain, frost, or a drought,” says Strömvik.

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