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Simplot touts benefits of GMO spud

Carol Ryan Dumas
Simplot has developed potato varieties through biotechnology using potato DNA to reduce brusing, browning when cut and the amino acid reponsible for the formation of acrylamides in potatoes cooked at high temperatures. The company has petitioned USDA for deregulation of the new varities and is working on developing varieties with other desirable traist such as disease resistance and enhanced nutrition.

Farmers, potato processors, food companies and consumers can all benefit from new biotech potatoes developed by the J.R. Simplot Co., according to a Simplot official.

The new potatoes, genetically engineered using Simplot’s Innate Technology, reduce black spot bruising, don’t turn brown when cut and limit the formation of asparagine – an amino acid and precursor to acrylamide, a potential carcinogen produced when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures.

Simplot engineered the potatoes by taking DNA from wild and cultivated potatoes and inserting it into potato tubers used as seed to silence the genes related to black spot bruise, reducing sugars in tubers and asparagine, said Haven Baker, Simplot’s general manager and vice president of plant sciences.

The new potatoes, in both fresh and chipping varieties, will reduce losses from bruising and browning and assist the industry in meeting consumer concerns over acrylamide, he said Jan. 6 during the 2014 Far West Agribusiness Association’s winter conference in Twin Falls.

Simplot’s Innate Russet Burbank has half the bruising of the conventional variety, which will especially benefit the fresh market, and its Innate Ranger Russet has about one-fourth the bruising of its conventional counterpart and better yields, he said.

Russet Burbanks had similar yields to its conventional counterpart, and both Innate varieties graded comparably with their conventional counterparts. Innate chipping varieties of Atlantic and Snowden also had similar yields and grades as their conventional counterparts. And all varieties were indistinguishable from their conventional counterparts in taste and texture trials.

The engineering process uses only DNA from potatoes. The potatoes pose no environmental risk, create no harm to other species and grow just like conventional potatoes in extensive field tests.

Simplot has petitioned USDA for non-regulated status for the Innate varieties and USDA held a 60-day public comment period, which ended in July.

More than 90 positive comments – from major potato growers, molecular scientists, and leading potato research institutions – were received. In addition, 183 negative comments were received, comparing favorably with other genetically engineered crops and food – such as biotech salmon, which received 1.3 million negative comments.

Simplot is also seeking FDA approval and working on trade approval from Canada, Mexico and Southeast Asia.

In its third phase of research and development, Simplot is working on late blight and PVY resistance and silencing the acid invertase enzyme to control sugars that turn potatoes brown in storage, making them unappealing for chips or fries.

Looking further ahead, Innate potatoes could be developed to increase vitamin and antioxidant content, resist other diseases, shorten time to harvest, and improve efficiencies for water and fertilizer use.

In the next 20 years, Simplot thinks it can develop potatoes that reduce cost of production by 20 percent or increase yields, he said.

As for consumer acceptance, the public is willing to accept improvements but they can get a little skittish about biotech technology. But Simplot has found when it tells the Innate story, consumer acceptance is very close to consumers’’ acceptance of traditional breeding, he said.

With USDA deregulation, the first generation of Innate potatoes could be available to commercial growers pretty quickly. The first adopters of those potatoes in the marketplace will likely be niche markets and Simplot’s smaller customers, he said.



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