Breeders focus on reducing acrylamide

John O'Connell/Capital Press Carla Poulson, a research technician with the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center, removes anthers to facilitate parental hybridization of potato plants being bred for lowered acrylamide following processing. Potato breeder Rich Novy works in the background.

Industry proactive in developing clones low compound levels

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

ABERDEEN, Idaho -- Rich Novy breeds potato clones intended to address a potential problem for processors before it happens.

Research suggests that acrylamide, formed when starchy foods are exposed to high temperatures, may contribute to cancer. The Food and Drug Administration hasn't released any guidelines on acrylamide consumption, and the World Health Administration concluded there's too little information about potentially harmful acrylamide levels to recommend avoiding specific foods.

The industry, however, decided to be proactive in developing low-acrylamide varieties, explained Novy, a potato breeder with the Agricultural Research Service here.

Acrylamide, discovered in food by Swedish researchers in 2002, is present in about 40 percent of calories Americans consume, including in french fries, potato chips, coffee, chocolate, almonds, crackers, cereal, bread and even some fruits and vegetables, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

In 2010, the National Potato Council and the U.S. Potato Board assembled an acrylamide team of 30 industry officials and researchers.

Novy explained sugars and the amino acid asparagine are precursors of acrylamide formation. He's working to develop or find varieties that have low levels of both. Potato breeding of fry and chip varieties has long focused on low sugar levels in order to lighten fry and chip color, Novy noted.

"I think this is a good example of good collaboration between researchers and industry to address an issue the industry feels does need to be addressed at this point," Novy said.

In its second year, the National Fry Processing Trial was formed to find low-acrylamide clones acceptable to industry. Last year, 81 entries from breeding programs throughout the U.S. were evaluated at Washington State University, the Aberdeen ARS and North Dakota State University. The University of Wisconsin and University of Maine will also participate this year, when 88 entries will be evaluated, including 21 from Aberdeen.

Acrylamide was halved in some of the breeding clones in the trial's first year. Two existing processing varieties, Premier Russet and Dakota Trailblazer, tested lowest for acrylamide among existing varieties.

"There is definitely material in that trial that is showing reduced levels of acrylamide relative to the standards that are currently in there," Novy said. "The question is do they have the agronomics as well that are going to be necessary from a processor's standpoint?"

University of Wisconsin horticulture professor A.J. Bussan is the lead on a USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant that's funding the breeding effort with $3.7 million for the first two years and $4 million for years three and four, assuming acceptable progress is demonstrated. Another $4 million in matching funds came from the industry, through the USPB.

Researchers hope to find existing clones low in acrylamide, to identify genetic markers that could assist with breeding and to target sugar and asparagine levels for clones, Bussan said.

He said 11 low-acrylamide varieties are being evaluated at J.R. Simplot's Caldwell plant for processing attributes, and commercial field trials could commence on up to 20 acres in 2014 or 2015.

"This grant might prevent acrylamide from being federally regulated," Bussan said.

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