Why a humble spud is “more complex” than humans


The humble potato has twice as many genes as a human

THE DNA of the humble spud has been cracked by Scots scientists, who discovered it has twice as many genes as humans.

The team found that the unglamorous, starchy tuber has an astounding 39,000 genes.

The finding by the James Hutton Institute (JHI), Dundee, means scientists can create new breeds of potato much more quickly.

The new types of spud can be loaded with useful nutrients and made more resistant to disease and pests.

Dr Glenn Bryan of the JHI said: “We are now asking how we can use the information to learn about some of the traits we work on, such as disease resistance, mineral content and nutritional benefit.”

Decoding the DNA of the potato proved a massive challenge because it has four copies of each of its 12 chromosomes. Human beings have only two copies.

The practical benefits opened up by the research include potatoes that grow faster and varieties that taste even nicer.

Among the 39,000 genes, some 800 were discovered that deal with disease resistance.

This finding could help scientists deal with devastating diseases such as the potato blight pathogen which caused the 1840s Irish potato famine.

If a blight-resistant potato could be created, it would save almost 3bn in lost crops around the world every year.

The potato is the third-most important food crop in the world and even provides raw materials for industry.

It is estimated by the UN that within two decades, more than two billion people will depend on the crop for their income, diet, or feed for animals.

Sarah Gurr, a molecular plant pathologist at Oxford University, said: “Potatoes are more nutritious in terms of complex carbohydrates, they’ve got more protein and more fibre than rice, with no fat.”

Scottish Rural Affairs Minister Richard Lochhead described the publication of the research as a “major achievement”, adding it “represents the culmination of many years of dedicated work”.

While most of us make do by popping a potato in the microwave, some chefs have elevated the potato to haute cuisine.

Heston Blumenthal admits his approach to chips is “long winded”. He recommends using charlotte or belle de fontenay varieties, cooked twice and kept in the fridge for a week before being fried in groundnut oil.

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