ARGENTINA – Scientists from Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) are on the verge of releasing Latin America’s first gene-edited potato, revolutionizing the future of potato cultivation and addressing critical issues related to food waste.

The innovative development aims to combat enzymatic browning, a natural process in potatoes that occurs when they are cut, peeled, or subjected to harvesting and transport, leading to changes in flavor, texture, and color.

Enzymatic browning is a major cause of financial losses for farmers, contributing to millions of dollars in damages and substantial food waste as consumers reject discolored produce.

Using the revolutionary gene-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9, scientists at INTA successfully deactivated the gene responsible for the expression of polyphenol oxidase enzymes, the culprits behind browning.

The breakthrough allows the edited potato to resist browning for up to 48 hours when exposed to the air, a stark contrast to conventional potatoes that darken within minutes.

The potato, a staple in the diets of millions across Latin America, Africa, and Asia, plays a pivotal role in global food security.

By mitigating browning and bruising, the gene-edited potato promises to significantly reduce economic losses for farmers and combat food waste in supermarkets and homes.

The International Potato Center, located in Peru, emphasizes the critical role of potatoes in securing the food supply for millions.

Regulatory approval and replicability

The gene-edited potato has already undergone scrutiny by Argentine regulatory authorities, concluding that it is considered conventional as it does not incorporate genes from distant organisms. This distinction means the potato falls outside the regulatory framework designated for transgenic crops.

The breakthrough is not confined to a single potato variety, as researchers affirm that the genetic improvement can be replicated in other varieties, potentially benefiting consumers worldwide.

María Andrea Uscátegui, Executive Director for the Andean Region of the Association of Agricultural Plant Biotechnology (Agro-Bio), emphasizes the positive impact of this development on peasant economies and daily diets.

With the potential for licensing the technology to other countries in the region, the gene-edited potato could reduce economic losses for farmers and offer nutritional benefits to consumers.

INTA’s research efforts don’t stop here. Recently receiving government grants, the institute is expanding its gene-editing initiatives to develop varieties that resist cold-induced sweetening, directly impacting the potato chip industry.

Additionally, they aim to enhance water efficiency in potatoes, making them more resilient in drought scenarios, and further contributing to sustainable agriculture.

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