UK-based TuberGene project aims to harness the power of gene editing to address supply chain challenges

A UK-based research team is aiming to change the potato supply chain by applying cutting-edge precision breeding approaches.

TuberGene potato gene editing UK

Led by B-hive Innovations, the new research project is called TuberGene and is funded as part of UKRI’s National Engineering Biology Programme. 

TuberGene aims to harness the power of gene editing to address pressing challenges and secure a sustainable future for the potato industry.

”The UK potato sector produces around 5m tonnes of potatoes each year but faces significant hurdles, including producing a significant number of potatoes that don’t meet commercial specifications, costing millions of pounds annually,” B-hive stated. “Additionally, changing consumer preferences have caused fresh potato sales to gradually decline, as people opt for quicker-cooking alternatives like rice and pasta.

”With new legislation allowing the commercial development of gene edited crops, the project presents an exciting opportunity to transform the industry,” it noted.

Researchers 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, the group said.

“The UK potato industry is facing significant challenges, and it’s crucial that we find innovative solutions to ensure its long-term viability,” said Dr Andy Gill, general manager of B-hive Innovations.

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

Dr Rob Hancock, research scientist at the James Hutton Institute, explained that gene editing and other precision breeding technologies offered ”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,” Hancock outlined.

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.

“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,” added Barbara Correia, principal research scientist at B-hive.

”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.”