USDA approves new blight resistant, non-browning GE potato

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced they will deregulate a second genetically engineered potato by J.R. Simplot Company. APHIS approved Simplot’s first generation potato in March 2015, which was engineered to be bruise resistant, brown less quickly than standard potatoes and produce less acrylamide when fried. In addition, the newly approved potato is engineered for blight resistance and a lower sugar content.


Dr. David Douches, Professor and Director of MSU Potato Breeding and Genetics Program, Michigan State University (webpage):

Expertise: Potato breeding and genetics. Dr. Douches has conducted independent field trials of the genetically engineered Simplot potatoes.

“This next generation of potatoes introduces two additional genes besides those that were engineered into the first generation. The first generation had reduced bruising and browning, along with reduced asparagine which lowers acrylamide in the frying process. The two new genes introduce late blight resistance and silence the enzyme invertase, which reduces sugar content and further lowers acrylamide forming potential.

“Most US potato varieties have no resistance to late blight so this is a major enhancement for the potato community. Late blight is caused by a pathogen which can rot the tubers. Before the disease moves in during the summer, farmers are required to protect their crop so that they are in a position to manage the disease when it hits. That requires a weekly spray schedule to protect the crop, which accelerates if and when the disease hits. Having some resistance in the potatoes allows the farmer to cut back on their fungicide needs and still have some crop protection.

“The invertase silencing, besides reducing the sugars available in the tuber, lowers the temperature at which the potatoes can be stored. It’s a real bonus because having to store potatoes at a warmer temperature cuts the maximum storage time, and increases the probability of rotting and shrinkage caused by the potato losing moisture. So you are able to store the crop longer with better quality and less disease.”


Dr. Richard Veilleux, Interim Head, Department of Horticulture, Virginia Tech University (webpage):

Expertise: Plant breeding and genetics using modern tools of genomics, transgenics, molecular marker analysis and plant cell and tissue culture to augment traditional breeding and selection.

“USDA’s determination of nonregulated status for the Simplot GMO potatoes will allow them to be grown commercially as they have been deemed not to pose a threat to agriculture or the environment. Simplot’s GMO potatoes have two distinct differences from the previously released, then withdrawn, GMO potatoes of the 1990s. One difference is that the introduced genes have come from potato, making the GMO potatoes “cisgenic” rather than “transgenic.” It would be theoretically possible to introduce these same genes through sexual crosses.

“The second difference in the Simplot GMO potatoes is that they used a method where the selectable marker, antibiotic resistance, is not retained in the final product. There has been considerable, but misguided, concern that the presence of an antibiotic resistance gene in an edible plant could result in horizontal gene transfer to consumers of GMO crops, making them resistant to antibiotics. Simplot allayed these concerns by using a technology that avoided the stable integration of antibiotic resistance in their GMO potatoes.

“The traits introduced into these new GMO potatoes – low acrylamide potential, reduced black spot bruising and late blight resistance – should result in improved products for consumers and farmers. The generation of acrylamides in potato products fried at high temperatures has been raised as a potential health concern as these compounds have been shown to be carcinogenic. By interrupting the function of a gene that converts sucrose to glucose and fructose, the potatoes have very few of the precursors required for acrylamide formation. Black spot bruising occurs during handling of potatoes after harvest and can result in significant losses. Growing potatoes with improved late blight resistance should result in considerable reduction in fungicide use by potato farmers, thus lowering the possibility of pesticide residue in the edible crop.”


Declared interests (see GENeS register of interests policy):

Dr David Douches: “I have conducted independent field trials of Simplot’s potatoes. Simplot provided funding to cover the cost to Michigan State University to run the trials.”

No further interests declared.



USDA APHIS announcement:

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