Preserving potato genetic diversity for the future

The potato has saved countless millions from famine over the centuries and it has the potential to make an increasingly important contribution to food and nutrition security as climate change advances. For this to happen, however, the crop’s genetic diversity must be conserved for breeders to be able to develop the resilient and productive potato varieties that farmers and consumers will need in the future.

Potato germplasm at the International Potato Center's (CIP for its acronym in Spanish) gene bank. Founded in 1971, the CIP gene bank works to conserve and use roots and tuber genetic diversity for humanity. As of 2017, it houses more than 21,700 potato, sweetpotato, and Andean roots and tuber accessions.

This is a central message in “Ensuring the genetic diversity of potatoes,” a book chapter co-written by International Potato Center Scientist Emeritus Dave Ellis, Alfonso del Rio, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and John Bamberg and Shelley Jansky of USDA-ARS.

The authors review the routes for acquisition of potato genetic material, methods for its classification and preservation, and discuss the evaluation and enhancement of potato genetic material. They suggest that given the importance of using genetics to improve potato – and other staples – genebank staff should look to innovate in order to maximize their institution’s contribution to that process. They also address issues of control to minimize problems such as the transmission of disease.

The chapter provides an extensive and up-to-date overview of the contribution of genebanks to potato science and agriculture, making it an important addition to the literature on both potatoes and genebanks. It is part in the book “Achieving sustainable cultivation of potatoes, Volume 1: Breeding improved varieties,” edited by Gefu Wang-Pruski and published by Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing Limited.

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biodiversity for the future, climate change, GLF2020, Potatoes