Science - March 10, 2010

Transgenetic and cisgenetic potatoes coming closer

The European Commission has given the go-ahead to member countries to cultivate the genetically modified Amflora potato of chemical company BASF. This is a big step forward, says Anton Haverkort of Plant Research International (PRI).

The Amflora potato is not suitable for human consumption, and is developed for the production of starch, a raw material for paper and animal feed. Hence, the potato produces considerably more of the starch amylopectine.
Haverkort expects the gene technology Modena potato of Avebé to also be approved shortly. This potato also produces amylopectine. 'BASF has introduced an extra antibiotic marker gene. Avebé uses a more modern, marker-less technique. I expect the Avebé potato to have even less constraints.' Farmers may cultivate Amflora potatoes only if they can keep these clearly separated from normal potatoes.
Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic are expected to be interested in cultivating the transgenetic potato. 'This is the first time recognition is given to a transgenetic vegetation specially developed for the European market', says Haverkort.
He sees more hopeful developments ahead. This summer, the European Commission will determine which genetic techniques continue to be classified under genetic modification. Haverkort is curious if cisgenesis (modification with genes of the same species), acclaimed by Wageningen plant scientists, would be labelled as genetic modification.
His research group is involved in the development of a cisgenetic potato resistant to the disease Phythophthora. In the research programme DuRPh , PRI is studying disease resistance with three or four genes simultaneously. The institute has in the meanwhile signed an agreement with the international potato institute CIP in Peru and Cornell University in the U.S. to develop a cisgenetic potato in Africa. 'The introduction of transgenetic and cisgenetic potatoes is a slow process, but it's moving.'