Scientists from the International Potato Center (CIP) are using wild potatoes to develop climate-resilient varieties. These potatoes are tolerant to heat and drought and resistant to late blight and bacterial wilt, the most important diseases of the tuber.
"Developing potato varieties that are resistant to diseases can substantially reduce production costs and help improve the income and diet of small potato producers," stated the institution.
According to the entity, researchers have spent the last four years evaluating wild potatoes, which are generally inedible, that were kept in the CIP germplasm bank in Lima and that were crossed with other potato varieties thanks to the support of Crop Trust and the Government of Norway.
In fact, the CIP germplasm bank holds one of the world's largest collections of wild potato relatives, some of which grow in areas of inclement weather or under the pressure of pests and diseases. These varieties have developed mechanisms that allow them to cope with extreme conditions, a characteristic that scientists seek to transfer to cultivated varieties.
According to the CIP, since the wild relatives are very different from cultivated species, researchers must conduct a laborious process of pre-breeding before crossing the species. "The second phase of the Crop Trust support will allow CIP scientists to continue pre-breeding work for two more years, while sharing potato clones containing resistance genes from wild potatoes with other crop improvement programs," they added.
Thiago Mendes, a potato breeder and project leader, said: "We are going to share our resilient potatoes with breeding programs in Kenya, Peru, and around the world so that they are crossbred with locally adapted potatoes."
Mendes said that the bacterial wilt and late blight were causing significant economic losses, especially among small farmers in Africa, a problem that will only increase with climate change.
"Small producers can not always acquire the fungicides they need to control late blight, which means they are hit the hardest. In addition, since the late blight pathogen is evolving rapidly, the effectiveness of the fungicides diminishes with the passage of time. The wild relatives of crops represent a new and valuable source of resistance," he added.