Firm to develop non-GMO spuds
Technology modifies traits with natural gene repair process
By DAVE WILKINS
A global biotech firm has announced plans to use its patented technology to develop potatoes more tolerant of certain herbicides and less susceptible to blackspot bruise.
Cibus Global launched the project in partnership with Naturally Enhanced United Seed, a Rexburg, Idaho-based potato seed co-op.
San Diego-based Cibus Global will use its patented trait development system, which relies on potatoes' own natural process of gene repair to change the genetic sequence.
No foreign genetic material is introduced, so the new varieties aren't considered "transgenic" or genetically modified organisms, company officials said.
"(The) technology is revolutionary in that it enables the development in plants of valuable traits that enhance overall efficiency and product quality through a natural process," Keith Walker, president of Cibus Global, said in a press release.
The project's first goal is to develop a new spud variety with resistance to a class of herbicides that's effective in controlling weeds such as nightshade. Because the herbicides can damage conventional potato varieties, now they are applied before the spud plants emerge.
That could change with a new herbicide tolerant variety.
"Once we have the (herbicide) tolerance, you can spray right over the top of the potatoes and it won't cause problems," said Keith Esplin, executive director of the seed co-op. "Our first big goal is to get better control of nightshade."
The plan is to have some herbicide tolerant seed available for commercial planting for the 2014 crop, he said.
The partnership's second goal is to develop a new Russet Burbank variety with reduced blackspot bruising.
University studies indicate that blackspot bruising costs the U.S. potato industry nearly $167 million annually. Bruising of all types results in about $300 million in losses, company officials said.
Blackspot bruise occurs when the impact of a potato tuber against an object damages cells in the tissue just beneath the skin without actually breaking the skin. Within 24 to 48 hours, the damaged tissue turns dark gray to black in color, but can be seen only after peeling the potato.
The new traits will be registered under plant variety protection law and licensed to growers across the country for a fee, Esplin said.
"We're really excited about the technology and are confident that we'll be able to develop even more beneficial traits down the road," he said.
Cibus Global's patented technology represents a big advantage because it's non-GMO, company officials said. It's been recognized by the USDA as a "mutagenesis" technique that isn't subject to the regulations applied to transgenic varieties.
It's the same technique behind Clearfield wheat, industry officials said.
Download a pdf copy of a University of Idaho report on preventing potato bruising at: http://info.ag.uidaho.edu/resources/PDFs/BUL0725.pdf
Cibus Global: www.cibus.com