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How crops are being disaster-proofed

How crops are being disaster-proofed

14 May 2024

Christine Ro,Technology Reporter for the BBC, writes about the strategies scientists are using to disaster-proof crops against diseases and climate change.

Late blight is an old foe of humans. This disease catalysed the devastating Irish potato famine that began in 1845.

It is caused by a fungus-like pathogen, which quickly kills a potato plant and turns the crop into inedible mush.

More recently, late blight has been creeping into higher parts of the Peruvian Andes, as warmer, wetter weather helps the pathogen spread.

So scientists at the International Potato Center (CIP), a research institute in Peru, were very motivated to develop potato varieties that could resist late blight.

They searched for this trait among so-called crop wild relatives – undomesticated plants that are distantly related to the ones now grown for food.

After finding the disease resistance in potato wild relatives, they crossed the wild plants with cultivated ones. Local farmers then tested the newly developed varieties, voting for the ones they preferred to grow, sell and eat.

The result is CIP-Matilde, a potato variety released in 2021 that doesn’t require fungicides to stand up to late blight.

 

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Categories: Crop Trust in the News, BOLD, Potato

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