USA – Michigan State University (MSU) potato breeder Dave Douches has introduced a new genetically engineered potato, Kal91.3, which promises to enhance the potato industry by reducing environmental impact and improving storage quality.

This innovation has received an exemption from the biotechnology regulations typically applied to genetically modified products by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS).

The Kal91.3 potato, derived from the MSU variety named Kalkaska, can be stored in cool temperatures without converting sucrose into reducing sugars like fructose and glucose.

This reduction minimizes off-color browning and caramelization, resulting in healthier and higher-quality products, including potato chips. Additionally, the new potato variety requires fewer fertilizers and pesticides during storage, making it more environmentally friendly.

Jiming Jiang, an MSU Foundation Professor, initially discovered how to suppress the gene responsible for vacuolar acid invertase in potatoes, which breaks down sucrose into reducing sugars at low temperatures.

Inspired by this discovery, Douches aimed to correct the sugar imbalance in Michigan’s commercial chipping potatoes.

“I’ve always felt as the potato breeder at MSU that using biotechnology as a tool to improve potatoes would be worthwhile,” Douches said. “We have chipping potatoes that work well, but I wanted to take this gene and see if it could improve a potato with sugar issues.”

From 2014-2015, Douches developed an RNA interference (RNAi) construct that silenced vacuolar acid invertase in Kalkaska potatoes.

Testing from 2016-2023 showed that the Kal91.3 potato maintained its sugar balance at cooler temperatures, around 40 F, which traditionally caused storage problems like rots and moisture loss.

“There’s a double value to it,” Douches explained. “We stabilize the sugars, slowing the conversion of sucrose into fructose and glucose, and we benefit from storing the potato for longer periods at cooler temperatures.”

In January, USDA APHIS confirmed that the Kal91.3 potato does not pose an increased plant pest risk, thus exempting it from biotech regulations. Douches and his team are now collaborating with Michigan potato industry leaders to evaluate the potential impact of Kal91.3 on the state’s chipping potato industry.

Michigan, the eighth-largest potato producer in the U.S., uses 70% of its potatoes for chips. Kelly Turner, executive director of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission, highlighted the potential benefits of the Kal91.3 potato.

“The storage capacity of the Kal91.3 potato can stabilize Michigan’s potato industry with a steady supply throughout the year,” Turner said. “The reduction in fructose and glucose can lead to crispier, healthier, and tastier chips.”

Turner also emphasized the environmental advantages. “The Kal91.3 potato could be grown using less fertilizers and pesticides, reducing the environmental risk. It also offers opportunities to address climate and weather changes, making potatoes more tolerant to drought and other stresses.”

Ohalo’s new Boosted Breeding technology

In a related development, Ohalo has announced its new Boosted Breeding technology, which aims to significantly improve global agriculture.

This technology allows each parent plant to pass its entire genome to its offspring, combining beneficial traits and vastly increasing genetic diversity. This leads to healthier, more productive plants with yields reportedly increasing by 50-100% in early trials.

Dave Friedberg, CEO of Ohalo, highlighted the importance of this innovation. “Boosted Breeding will accelerate agriculture adaptation, helping crops survive and thrive in new environments while reducing the cost and footprint of agriculture.”

Ohalo’s discovery promises to transform plant breeding, making new seed varieties available and improving agronomic systems. This development aligns with the ongoing efforts at MSU and other institutions to enhance agricultural productivity and sustainability.

These advancements in plant breeding and genetic engineering mark significant steps toward a more efficient and resilient agricultural future.

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