Courtesy of Silvia Rondon.
Potato breeders at Oregon State University are hot on the tail of a microscopic parasite lurking in farms across the Columbia Basin.
Columbia root-knot nematodes might be too small to see with the naked eye, but they can cause noticeable damage to spuds if left unchecked. The faculty at OSU’s Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center are now working to identify the gene that makes certain potatoes resistant to nematodes, which could then be used to create new varieties.
Sapinder Bali, a postdoctoral scholar with the HAREC plant breeding program, is part of a team developing molecular markers for the nematode-resistance gene in potatoes. She discussed their progress during the station’s annual potato field day Wednesday.
Nematodes infect both the roots and tubers of potato plants, which can stunt their growth or kill them altogether. By developing a set of molecular markers, Bali said researchers will be able to scan potatoes at the DNA level to find which varieties are resistant and which are susceptible to nematodes.
“These markers can help breeders to confirm the resistant varieties before crossing for choosing right parents and evaluating the segregating populations with higher confidence,” according to the project summary.
That gives breeders like Sagar Sathuvalli a leg up on creating new varieties designed to save farmers money. Sathuvalli works with the Tri-State Potato Breeding Program with Oregon, Washington and Idaho. It takes a minimum of 12 years and thousands of samples before new varieties are ready for commercial release, he said.
The program did release three new varieties earlier this year, including Jester, Cheshire and Vermilion. Three others are also in the works. Sathuvalli said breeding is done primarily for resistance to pests like nematodes and diseases like Verticillium wilt and potato virus Y.
“Our goal is to identify those genes responsible for resistance,” he said.
Other field day presentations included updates on tiny Lygus bugs as a potential vector for disease, as well as efforts to monitor aphids in fields. The goal of HAREC field days is to provide the latest information on growing tools and techniques to make local farmers as efficient and profitable as they can.
Station Director Phil Hamm said HAREC is now home to 15 center-pivot irrigation systems for their fields, mostly due to the generosity of supporters. A new Blue Mountain Community College Precision Irrigation Agriculture building is also under construction.
“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Hamm said. “I don’t think you can go anywhere where they have more faculty doing more with potatoes than we have here.”