Sainsbury Laboratory's scientists get go-ahead on GM potato trial

Defra has given scientists at The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) the go ahead to conduct a three-year trial on genetically modified (GM) potatoes.

Work on the trial is due to take place in the field some time in the next few weeks. Defra gave the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded trial its stamp of approval following a public consultation.

Scientists at TSL - part of the John Innes Centre - are testing potatoes that have been genetically modified to resist late potato blight (Phytophthora infestans), which causes some £3.5bn annual losses across the globe and costs growers £350 per hectare to control each season.

Two genes that give potatoes resistance against the pathogen have been isolated from wild South American inedible potato species for the trial. Security around the tests is being stepped up following the destruction by protesters of several UK GM trials in the past couple of years.

A BBSRC representative said: "Our approach has a high likelihood of helping to minimise the impact of agriculture on the environment by reducing applications of fungicides for late blight control.

"We believe that the scientific challenges in feeding a growing population places a responsibility on us, as publicly-funded researchers, to investigate thoroughly all potential ways that bio-science and biotechnology might be used to increase food production sustainably - including, for example, GM in breeding and natural bio-agents in pest and disease control."

The representative continued: "If it is successful and the approach can be deployed there will be a reduced impact of potato cultivation on the environment thanks to reduced use of agrichemicals. This benefits everyone, including farmers."

"The purpose of this trial is to test the efficacy of the blight resistance genes. Should this trial be successful, we hope that companies will want in future to license the genes and deploy them in commercial crops."

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