ARGENTINA – Scientists at Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) are on the brink of introducing Latin America’s inaugural genetically edited potato.

The initiative focuses on deactivating the gene responsible for the potato’s discoloration post-cutting, peeling, or when exposed to impact during harvest and transit.

This enzymatic browning process negatively affects the tuber’s flavor, texture, appearance, and nutritional value.

Such browning and bruising often lead to substantial losses for farmers and contribute to food wastage as consumers reject discolored produce, adding to the problem.

According to Dr. Gabriela Massa, a researcher at the Agrobiotechnology Laboratory of the Balcarce Agricultural Experimental Station (INTA) and the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research – CONICET, the gene-edited potato “will be registered as a new variety, and from then on, it will be available to whoever wants to license it.”

Potatoes, cultivated for over 8,000 years in the Andes, rank as the world’s third most essential crop after rice and wheat.

They play a pivotal role in ensuring food security for millions across Latin America, Africa, and Asia, as highlighted by the International Potato Center based in Peru, the crop’s place of origin.

Employing the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 genetic editing technique, Dr. Matías González’s doctoral thesis at INTA’s Agrobiotechnology Laboratory managed to deactivate the gene that triggers enzymatic browning in potatoes.

“Tests demonstrated that the edited potato remains unaffected for up to 48 hours when exposed to air—a stark contrast to conventional potatoes that darken within minutes,” said Dr. González.

The edited potato variety, based on Desiree, underwent scrutiny from Argentine regulatory authorities.

As it doesn’t contain genes from distant organisms, it’s classified as conventional, sidestepping the regulatory framework for transgenic crops.

While initially developed in the Desiree variety, this breakthrough can be replicated in other varieties, opening doors for broader agricultural improvement across various countries.

Dr. Gabriela Massa, an INTA and CONICET researcher, emphasized the potato’s groundbreaking potential.

“This potato sets a precedent for utilizing modern biotechnological advancements in crop enhancement. Its application can extend to varieties of interest across Latin America and beyond.”

The development’s potential impact in Latin American nations where potatoes hold significant dietary and economic value is considerable.

María Andrea Uscátegui of Agro-Bio believes licensing this technology could benefit farmers and consumers by reducing food losses and enhancing nutritional value.

INTA recently secured government funding to further potato research, focusing on creating genetically edited varieties resistant to cold-induced sweetening, crucial for the potato chip industry.

Additionally, they aim to develop water-efficient edited potatoes, bolstering resilience against drought scenarios.

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