Scotland peels the potato genome

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A team of Scottish geneticists has announced the decoding of the genome, or gene sequence, of the potato.  Scientists based at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee believe that decoding of the potato’s genetic recipe will open the way to new and better varieties of the crop.

Research is still uncomplete, but Professor Iain Gordon of the James Hutton Institute told the BBC that decoding the potato genome would enable breeders to create varieties which are more nutritious, as well as resistant to pests and diseases.  Currently it takes breeders over ten years to create a new variety of the crop.

The traditional staple food of much of North West Europe, the potato was first cultivated over 8,000 years ago in South America.  The plant was introduced into Europe by the Spanish, who encountered it after their conquest of the Inca Empire.

The high yields of the new potato crop created a population explosion in Ireland and Scotland in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The effects of potato blight which ruined the potato crop was a major factor in the famines which struck Ireland and Highland Scotland in the 19th century.