2008 has been declared the year of the potato by the un. You can expect lots of new research projects, films and exhibitions on one of the most important staple crops. Over the years, breeders have used physical features or morphology of the plant to select varieties for different uses: human consumption, industrial processing or feeding animals. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin, usa, suggest the potato (Solanum tuberosum) be divided into four species. They reason this will help breeders be more specific in their selections, thereby paving the way for more vigorous varieties.
The potato's centre of origin is in and around Peru in South America, from where it has spread across the world over the past five centuries. David Spooner and colleagues at the horticulture department at Wisconsin have been conducting research on the species boundaries and evolutionary history of wild and cultivated potatoes.
The way out, they suggest, is the genomic approach: instead of only counting the chromosome sets, it requires identification of the smaller components of chromosomes called 'bases'. They also propose cultivated potatoes be reclassified into four species because there is much confusion in identifying potato varieties collected over three decades even at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. "Potato gene banks are in great need of an integrated and comprehensive programme ... Such a multicomponent system will serve the breeding community much better than the unstable traditional classifications."
K R Dhiman, head of India's Central Potato Research Station at Kufri, Himachal Pradesh, believes Spooner's proposal should be used to supplement existing methods: "It promotes a molecular or a genetic basis to determine the dissimilarities in the genes between and within species. It will improve breeding practices."
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.