The potato is not well suited to the extreme temperatures or flooding brought on by climate change. That is why plant scientists are breeding "super-spuds" able to endure harsher environmental conditions.
Today, the potato is the fourth most commonly grown food crop globally, after rice, maize and wheat. Nonetheless, it remains vulnerable to waterlogging and heat stress, conditions that it did not evolve to withstand in its original high-altitude home in the Andes. Now, with pollution upending Europe's climate, the potato has to confront these dual nemeses with increasing regularity.
"Some potatoes are quite tolerant of drought stress, but they all have big problems with heat and flooding," says Dr. Markus Teige, plant scientist at the University of Vienna who is leading the ADAPT project. ADAPT is developing new strategies to ensure potato crop productivity remains stable in the growth conditions of the future.
The ADAPT project brings together four potato breeders and ten research institutions to investigate how some potatoes resist stresses. "We want to understand stress acclimation at the molecular level," said Dr. Teige, "To develop markers for breeding stress tolerant potatoes."