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May 10, 2002 | 1320 IST
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Transgenic potatoes developed

BS Agriculture Editor

Scientists of the Shimla-based Central Potato Research Institute have developed various types of transgenic potatoes resistant to pests and diseases with higher protein content.

Joint efforts by the Central Potato Research Institute and the Trombay-based Bhabha Atomic Research Center have led to the creation of a transgenic potato containing a gene capable of resisting viral diseases. This gene has been borrowed from a potato virus called PVY and transferred to the popular potato variety Kufri Jyoti. The resultant plants have been found to accumulate a viral-coated protein, providing them a protective shield against infection by this virus.

Biotechnologists have also developed Bt potato on the lines of Bt cotton by transferring the pest-resistant gene from the soil bacteria bacillus thuringiensis. These transgenic potato plants possess in-built defence (resistance) against insect pests and fungal diseases.

This work was carried out jointly by the scientists of the Central Potato Research Institute and the National Research Center on Plant Biotechnology, New Delhi. The Bt potato is resistant to the potato tuber moth pest as well as the leaf-eating caterpillar. It is likely to be available for commercial cultivation in a few years.

In another path-breaking endeavour, scientists of the Central Potato Research Institute and the New Delhi-based National Centre on Plant Genome Research have developed a unique nutrition-rich potato by incorporating the protein synthesiser gene into various local varieties.

The gene used for this purpose is called the AmA1 storage grain protein gene. It was isolated from the traditional Indian herb Amaranthus hypochondracius (commonly known as ramdana or rajgeera) and transferred to potato plants. The grain storage protein of Amaranth contains two to four times more essential amino acids like methionine, lysine, leucine and threonine than normal plants.

Scientists believe the new potatoes have the potential to eradicate protein and calorie malnutrition in developing countries. Potato varieties possessing virtues of the Amaranth protein are under field trials and will, however, take some time to reach farmers and consumers.

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