Gene editing, under the auspices of a new research project, looks set to fast-track the impact of potato breeding programmes.

TuberGene will be funded as part of a United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) National Engineering Biology Programme.

The project aims to harness the power of gene editing to address pressing challenges and secure a sustainable future for the UK potato industry. It will be led by a company called  B-hive Innovations.

With new UK legislation allowing the commercial development of gene-edited crops, the project presents an opportunity to transform the potato sector.

The essence of the work follows the example already set by the likes of Rothamsted Research.

Scientists will focus on two key goals – reducing bruising-related discolouration and making potatoes quicker to cook.

These improvements aim to enhance potato quality, cut down on food waste, and meet the evolving needs of consumers.

Lincoln-based research and development (R&D) company, B-hive Innovations, comprises a team of agri-tech and biotech specialists, bringing innovative processes to the fresh produce supply chain.

Potato breeding programmes

The scientific team delivering the TuberGene project will also include representatives from Branston Ltd., the James Hutton Institute and James Hutton Ltd.

Dr. Andy Gill, general manager of B-hive Innovations, said:

“The UK potato industry is facing significant challenges, and it’s crucial that we find innovative solutions to ensure its long-term viability.

“This project represents a major step forward in our efforts to address issues such as bruising-related losses and changing consumer preferences.”

Research scientist at the James Hutton Institute, Dr. Rob Hancock, added:

“Gene editing and other precision breeding technologies offer unprecedented opportunities to rapidly enhance the traits of potatoes, meeting the need to quickly respond to the changing preferences of consumers.

“By targeting specific genes responsible for traits like bruising susceptibility and cooking times, we can create varieties that meet the needs of both growers and consumers.”

A key part of the project involves sequencing the genome of the Maris Piper potato.

This foundational work will pave the way for future targeted gene editing to enhance other desirable traits.

Principal research scientist at B-hive, Barbara Correia added:

“This project leverages the bioinformatics expertise in our business and the genome sequencing allows us to build a pipeline to address other issues in potato farming, such as disease resistance, as we move towards the creation of a ‘Super Spud’.

“It also means that we can apply our skills more easily to other crops, thereby helping more of the UK’s fresh produce sector and safeguarding global food security.”