Towards sustainable potato production using biotechnology
We have taken a biotechnological approach to improve pest and disease resistance and reduce pesticide use in potato production by metabolic engineering of natural biopesticides in the form of glucosinolates into potato. Glucosinolates are defense compounds naturally produced in Brassicales. Delivery of these biopesticides directly by the crop itself has great potential as one of several components of integrated pest management. The project is inspired from traditional Andes co-cultivation of potato and mashua, where the mashua exerts a protective role due to its content of benzylglucosinolate.
This project includes engineering of a multi-gene pathway in a foreign host plant. It is ambitious, but realistic as we have had a major scientific breakthrough in a recent DANIDA-financed project, where we demonstrated that it is possible by transiently expression of 6 biosynthetic genes to make tobacco produce benzylglucosinolate.
Presently, we aim to engineer benzylglucosinolate genes into stable transgenic potato plants. The genetically engineered potato plants will be characterized with respect to fitness as well as pest and pathogen resistance. The plants will be tested against major potato pests such as Phytophthora infestans and the Andean weevil in contained greenhouse trials. Impact on non-target organisms such as aphids and the parasitoid leaf minor fly will be analyzed as an important component of risk assessment of environmental biosafety.
The project will bring together experts from Danish plant science, an international CGIAR institute (Centre International Potato) and a university in Lima, and provide the possibility for doctoral training to a talented Peruvian PhD student.
The project may provide an important step towards sustainable potato production, which is in agreement with the launching by UN of 2008 as International Potato Year aimed at focusing world attention on the role that potato can play in providing food security and alleviating poverty. Further, the project has major potential within agro-biotechnology, which is an important future means to meet the demands for biomass food and energy for the world population.
Collaboration: International Potato Centre, Lima; Pontificia Universidad Católica.
Funding: Danida Fellowship Centre (2009-2012)