Research Projects

2xcelerate: A diploid inbred line strategy to accelerate genetic gain in potato (USDA-AFRI)
Project Summary: We are converting potato, which is a tetraploid outcrossing crop, into a diploid inbreeding one. Breeding at the tetraploid level is inefficient and slow. Potato breeding has not kept pace with advances in breeding strategies and genomics tools. The conversion of potato into a diploid crop capable of self-pollination will allow breeders to realize the genetic gains required for potato to maintain its role as a major food crop. We have at our disposal a dominant gene that allows self-pollination in diploid germplasm and we have demonstrated that vigorous and fertile inbred lines can be made in potato. In addition, we have created diploid potato hybrids with yield and quality comparable to that of major tetraploid cultivars. We are generating 100 recombinant inbred lines (RILs) from each of six genetically diverse founder parents carrying germplasm from wild and cultivated potato relatives. We will evaluate the RILs in field trials and create a dense set of DNA markers. The RILs will be provided to the US Potato Genebank as true seed populations, accompanied by the phenotype and genotype data. This RIL set will be a novel, powerful, and valuable public resource for the mapping of economically important traits and the development of markers for marker-assisted selection. In addition, we will create inbred lines of cultivated potato for use in DNA sequence analyses and the generation of additional inbred line germplasm resources such as introgression lines. Our project will provide the foundation for future research to develop diploid potato cultivars.


Improving fresh market potato varieties for Wisconsin (Wisconsin Specialty Crop Block Grant)
Project summary: The fresh market sector represents 50% of the annual potato sales by Wisconsin farmers. Russet potatoes are the most common type of fresh market potatoes by far, but others such as red skinned, yellow fleshed, and ‘specialty’ varieties represent the greatest growth potential in the industry and value to the potato growers and packing sheds. Current russet varieties include Russet Norkotah (multiple line selections including standard, CO 8, TX 296, and others), Gold Rush, Silverton, and others. Red Norland and Dark Red Norland are common red-skinned varieties, Yukon Gold is a common yellow fleshed variety, and there are multiple specialty varieties. While these are highly productive with consistently good shape and size leading to good recovery in finished product, there is interest in finding new varieties with better quality and agronomic characteristics. Agronomic characteristics include lower nutrient and water requirements and improved disease resistance than current varieties. Quality characteristics include improved culinary characteristics that are seldom considered in the selection of new varieties, yet presents substantial market development opportunities. The goal of this project is to enhance the value of the Wisconsin fresh market potato industry by increasing the competitiveness of Wisconsin packing sheds and efficiency of current potato production systems. Specific objectives include 1) identification of new varieties with production and market potential in Wisconsin, 2) screen potential varieties for improved culinary characteristics, 3) screen varieties for resistance to key potato diseases, and 4) produce virus free seed for varieties with greatest fresh market potential. These goals will be achieved by implementing a cooperative screening program with potato farms and packing sheds across multiple locations in Wisconsin including participation in the identification of potatoes exhibiting the greatest market potential. Disease free seed will be produced to provide growers, packing sheds, and researchers access for commercialization of new potato lines with greatest production potential.


Improved breeding and variety evaluation methods to reduce acrylamide content and increase quality in processed potato products (USDA-SCRI)
Project summary: In 2002, acrylamide was discovered in carbohydrate rich foods processed at high temperatures. These include potato chips, French fries and other processed products that together account for over half of US potato consumption. The highest priority of the US potato industry is the need to introduce new varieties that reduce the acrylamide content of processed products and minimize health concerns related to acrylamide consumption. A partnership has developed among experts from industry, government and academia that focuses their collective effort on addressing this single need. The transdisciplinary approach described in this proposal builds on and extends industry-funded variety evaluation initiatives and the USDA AFRI SolCAP project that is developing molecular breeding tools for potato. Objectives are structured so that research and extension specialists across the US work with commercial potato growers, processing companies and end-users to address system-wide challenges related to new variety development and adoption. Areas of emphasis include research in potato breeding and genetics to improve potato quality, appearance, texture and taste to processor and end user specifications; identifying potato varieties that will reduce health concerns related to acrylamide in the production and processing of potatoes; and economic analysis focused on improving production efficiency, and profitability for growers and processors over the long term. The unprecedented level of participation across regions, disciplines and businesses that occurred as this proposal was developed highlights the commitment of the entire potato industry to this project. This work will accelerate the adoption of improved potato varieties by the commercial sector and achieve the goals of reducing the acrylamide content of processed potato products in the near term and decreasing acrylamide content to as low as reasonably achievable in the future.


Biological and economic impacts of emerging potato tuber necrotic viruses and the development of comprehensive and sustainable management practices (USDA-SCRI).
Project summary: The US potato industry is under threat from newly emerged potato viruses that render potatoes unmarketable. Our overall goal is to reduce the impact of these tuber necrotic viruses by working with all sectors of the potato industry to develop and implement new practices leading to a healthier potato crop and higher farm income. Virologists and plant pathologists will develop improved diagnostic methods to rapidly determine the type of virus and amount of disease on a farm. Technologies will be transferred to growers and seed inspectors so they can better make appropriate disease management decisions. Host plant resistance to virus disease is the best management option, but few virus resistant potato varieties exist. Virologists and potato breeders will work in concert to develop molecular markers to shave years and considerable cost off the development and release of new virus resistant potatoes. Until virus resistant potatoes are developed, potato growers need short term options to better manage virus disease on the farm. Entomologists, vector biologists, plant pathologists, and horticulturists will work to better understand the factors contributing to the spread of viruses onto and within a farm, and how the viruses impact tuber quality and processing traits during harvest and storage. This information will lead to regionally appropriate disease management strategies, as well as reduce the amount of virus in the crop and its impact on tuber quality. Economists will conduct a cost-benefit analyses of existing seed regulations, as well as possible new regulations suggested by scientists, to help the potato industry decide whether changes in farm practices, seed certification programs, and national and state regulations are worthwhile.


Organic certified seed potato production in the Midwest (USDA-NIFA)
Project summary: Use of certified seed potatoes has proven benefits for potato production. Use of disease-free planting stock limits tuber-borne diseases in potato crops, improving yield and quality. The current situation, with limited organic production of certified seed potatoes in the Midwest, forces organic growers to import at least some of their planting stock from other regions, and increases the risk of accidental introduction and spread of potato diseases. This project will support organic production of certified seed potatoes in the Midwest through field-based and economic research. Organic potato growers are also in need of access to a greater diversity of varieties, and to varieties adapted to organic production system. Heirloom varieties are likely to perform well in low-input organic conditions, and there is increasing consumer interest in the flavor and nutritional qualities of specialty potatoes. Our research will provide growers with detailed agronomic, sensory and nutritional data on heirloom and specialty potato varieties. Heirloom potato varieties will be grown in on-farm trials and characterized for yield, quality, disease resistance, taste and nutritional quality. Heirloom potato varieties are difficult to obtain as seed potatoes. Our collaboration with Seed Savers Exchange to eliminate pathogens from their heirloom potato collection is crucial to increase the availability of these varieties. We will conduct on-farm trials to define best management practices for organic production of seed potatoes, testing strategies for control of aphid-transmitted viruses which are a major seed potato production problem. A microeconomic analysis will be conducted based on the results of on-farm trials, and will be complemented by a macroeconomic analysis of organic markets. A grower-oriented publication focusing on the feasibility of growing organic seed potatoes will include worksheets useful to growers as operating guidelines and as financial documents for loan applications. Extension materials on heirloom and specialty varieties, best management practices for seed potato production, and the economics of organic seed potato production will be provided to growers and extension professionals through industry meetings and publications, field days, and online. Increased regional access to high quality seed potatoes for varieties that perform well in organic production will benefit organic growers in the Midwest by reducing seed potato costs (including shipping costs), reducing crop loss due to disease, increasing profitability by use of varieties suited to organic production, and increasing growers’ ability to serve high value specialty potato markets. Economic risk to growers entering the seed potato industry will be reduced by providing them with analyses of the economic feasibility of organic seed potato production and markets for organic seed and tablestock potatoes. Increased economic stability of organic growers will benefit rural communities by providing employment opportunities and a demand for services in rural areas. Improved disease management of potato crops by cultural methods will reduce pesticide use, improving ecosystem health.


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