UI to grow nuclear potato seed program

University of Idaho has hired a new director and a promoted a worker to be a full-time greenhouse manager for its nuclear seed potato program, and intends to invest in new infrastructure.
John O’Connell

Capital Press

Published on February 13, 2017 2:15PM

Matt Roth, left, the new greenhouse manager for the University of Idaho’s nuclear potato seed program, and the program’s manager, Jenny Durrin, work on mini-tuber production. Durrin was recently hired and Roth was recently made full-time, and UI has plans to expand the program’s production.

Courtesy of University of Idaho

Matt Roth, left, the new greenhouse manager for the University of Idaho’s nuclear potato seed program, and the program’s manager, Jenny Durrin, work on mini-tuber production. Durrin was recently hired and Roth was recently made full-time, and UI has plans to expand the program’s production.


MOSCOW, Idaho — University of Idaho has hired a new director for its nuclear seed potato program and plans to build additional facilities to help her expand production.

The planned investments — which include construction of a new greenhouse and laboratory — would move the university toward its long-term goal of becoming a national repository for potato germplasm.

Jenny Durrin filled the director position vacated when Lorie Ewing retired last July. She conducted research in potato virus Y resistance in common Idaho cultivars while obtaining her master’s degree in plant science under UI virologist Alex Karasev, and she spent two years studying pale cyst nematode at the university.

UI also promoted a part-time worker, Matt Roth, to be the program’s full-time greenhouse manager.

The self-sufficient nuclear seed program maintains more than 300 potato crosses — including experimental lines, public and private varieties and the Potato Variety Management Institute’s entire collection. The program also produces disease-free tissue cultures and pre-nuclear seed for seed growers, representing the first step in potato production.

Mark McGuire, director of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station, hopes the greenhouse will be complete by mid-summer in order to produce a fall crop. He said the program currently can’t keep up with orders.

“The seed potato production is limited by the greenhouse space,” McGuire said. “We’re looking to really double the capacity.”

McGuire said UI is in the early stages of planning and estimating costs of a new building to accommodate the nuclear seed program’s laboratory, as well as office space for marketing UI cereal and oilseed varieties. UI plans to approach commodity groups and industry partners for financial support and hopes to start construction of the building some time after July 2018.

As a national repository, Durrin said her program would maintain USDA varieties and would add 20 new lines per year on average from potato breeding programs throughout the U.S. Most U.S. potato lines are now stored at a Colorado laboratory, where they’re frozen cryogenically, a storage method that significantly lengthens propagation time. Durrin said UI’s plans for a national potato seed bank have “been put on hold, but we’ll be moving forward with it in the future.”

Roth, who served a tour of duty with the Air Force in Afghanistan before enrolling at UI, plans to start graduate school in the fall. His research will involve testing the feasibility of using hydroponics in the program. He explained with no soil, mini-tubers can be removed as they reach the ideal size for growers, many of whom have requested smaller, more uniform seed.

A continuous harvest, however, poses challenges as seed stored for longer periods behaves differently than newer seed.

Roth plans to research how exposing newer seed to warmer storage conditions may accelerate its aging, as a tool to homogenize hydroponic seed of varying ages. He’s already tested a small-scale hydroponic system he developed and plans to try out a larger system this season.



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