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back to article Brit boffins brew up blight-resistant FRANKENSPUD

A team of British researchers has announced the results of test cultivation of a blight-resistant potato - a transgenic creation featuring a "gene isolated from a wild relative of potato, Solanum venturii, and introduced by GM methods into the potato variety Desiree". For three growing seasons from 2010-12, scientists from the …

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Boffin

So, Doktor Frankenspud, we meet again!

But this time, the advantage is mine!

Bwahahahaha!

(with acknowledgements to Gary Larson)

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Re: So, Doktor Frankenspud, we meet again!

That’s Frahnkenshpood!

(tip o’ the hat to Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder)

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Headmaster

Re: So, Doktor Frankenspud, we meet again!

That's Froderick Frahnkenshpood...

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Coat

Re: So, Doktor Frankenspud, we meet again!

And if it gives you silent-but-deadly wind it will be a frankenspod.

In fact, there's a growth market. GM the spuds to be wind-giving, with specific strengths and aromas you can choose. A-E for strength, 1-10 from parfum through to devil's breath.

Mine's an E10 please, and that's you getting your coat.

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Mushroom

Re: So, Doktor Frankenspud, we meet again!

>In fact, there's a growth market. GM the spuds to be wind-giving, with specific strengths and aromas you can choose. A-E for strength, 1-10 from parfum through to devil's breath.

If a potato cannon is involved, I am interested. Perhaps an SPB endeavor.

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Non-GM blight resistant spuds already available

The use of GM methods to produce blight resistant spuds seems pretty pointless (not to mention expensive) given that the Sarvari Research Trust over in Wales have been breeding blight resistance in using multiple defence lines using conventional, non-GM techniques. Their Sarpo Mira, Sarpo Axona & Blue Danube varieties are widely available (I bought some from Wilkinson store in January for example) as there are no legal limitations to their sale in the Uk & EU.

I grew some last year & they grew well, taste good & store well. The only problems I had were that the slugs liked them too, and if allowed to grow on too long we got huge spuds but "hollow hearts".

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Re: Non-GM blight resistant spuds already available

Well we'll see which methods work best in the coming years. What's the harm in other options?

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The bit you missed...

They're splicing in genes from wild potato strains and testing the results: this is quick and fairly easy.

Now they know which genes work, and which wild strains carry them, a directed programme of cross-breeding will produce the a hybrid strain containing these genes *as if they had been spliced in*.

This is slow (takes 3-5 years) but not as slow as the trial-and-error process of hybridisation without detailed prior knowledge of which genes are effective and productive.

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Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

Outside of wild-harvest, of course.

Serious question. Corn, wheat, legumes, cabbage, milk, beer, wine etc. have all (and I mean ALL!) been genetically modified by humans.

Spuds, too. Yes, your chips are all GMO. Deal with it.

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Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

The distinction you're after is "natural selection" vs "unnatural/artificial/directed selection".

Trying to coopt "GMO" as a homonym for artificial selection is either disingenuous or naive.

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Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

So, Mark #255, show me where the Wild Poodles come from.

Humans have been cross-breeding (mixing genes) longer than we have had the ability to communicate via the written word.

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Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

I agree that GMO is a silly label and too often used as an all-purpose boo-word, like noo-coo-lar. But there is a distinction that can be made between cross-breeding and modern gene manipulation. All the genes in your poodle can be found in wild dogs - try cross-breeding a dog with a jellyfish to produce one that's bioluminescent and see how far you get.

Before we had the ability to transfer genetic material from one species (or even kingdom) to another, scientists tried to develop similarly resistant species by exposing developing organisms to gamma rays in the hope of producing a favourable mutation. This is a bit like throwing a bucketful of spare parts into the air and hoping they will fall to the ground in the form of an internal combustion engine, but since with genes it's relatively easy to do this a billion times, some progress was made. Modern techniques of genetic manipulation are simply much more efficient and effective.

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Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

There is a LARGE difference between introducing naturally occurring resistance genes in a species to fortify it against disease, and introducing "resistance" genes to quite unnaturally occuring herbicides/pesticides so that the species can cope with the goo you spray on it to keep your monoculture viable.

All that's been done here is fast-track the "natural" crossbreeding practice with genes which *can* be crossbred into the plant, eventually, over years. Which to my mind is a proper application of the technique. In the end the new breed woudl *still* have to go through the usual tests for suitability for consumption.

As for anything not GMO... I guess you could scour the last bits of the great wilds for wild barley and spelt. And even then there's no guarantee those plants are not "touched" by our early ancestors, since early farming methods pretty much ensured cross-pollination between whatever people grew in their farm patches and the environment right nextdoor.

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Boffin

@jake - Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

Gene splicing from unrelated species != Cross breeding different varieties of the same species.

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Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

"GMO is a silly label and too often used as an all-purpose boo-word, like noo-coo-lar"

Spot on, Chris Miller.

A crop that is genetically modified to naturally resist pests (ie requiring considerably less poison to be sprayed on it) is completely different from one that's been modified to naturally resist herbicides (ie requiring more poison to be spread). And that's not to mention the screwed-up 'Monsanto' business model where the crops are resistant only to their specific pesticides, legal actions against their own customers etc etc.

I would gladly buy products that were modified to increase resistance (ie had less poson sprayed on them) or to improve nutritional value (golden rice etc). Simply labelling a product 'GMO' is not helpful.

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Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

What the hell were they doing playing silly bastards in Britain when there is half a continent of fools that love that sort of thing?

Have we got Tony Blair to thank for the legality or what?

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Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

Yeah, if someone now used this information to breed a potato with these exact same genes the old fashion way, no-one would have a problem. You could actually have two identical products, one which would be legal to sell and one that would not be legal to sell... that would be an interesting test-case!

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@Graham Marsdan (was:Re: @jake - Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?)

Again, Graham:

http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/containing/1246537

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @jake - Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

"Gene splicing from unrelated species != Cross breeding different varieties of the same species."

The article specifically states that they used a "gene isolated from a wild relative of potato", hence not an unrelated species. This could perhaps be interpreted as a way of tailoring the cross-breeding process to get the required results in a more useful timeframe?

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Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

Down's syndrome. That's not GMO and doesn't even add any new genes - just doubles up a few.

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Re: Can anybody point me at ANYTHING that is not GMO?

An example of GMO that really bothers me is making a plant produce pesticide *inside* the fruit/tuber/whatever. This means I can't wash it off, and I really don't want to be eating a truckload of pesticide thank you very much.

OTOH if you want to swap a beneficial naturally occurring potato gene from one potato variety to another, go right ahead, that's fine with me.

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What will GreenPiss have to say about this?

Well, I bet there will be no Peace when that green between the ears lot has to think about their own actions.

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Mandatory potato famine notice.

Anyone who posts that this spud...or it's patented mates.. would have prevented the Irish Potato Famine is a muppet. The problem then was a sociological/political one. The victorians had a Daily Mail readers view on the Dole...even when people were starving. They preferred to herd them into alms houses..or koncentrationsläger as they might be known today.. More people died from cholera and typhoid.

The only problem with GMO's is it isn't too smart to rely on one lot. A new disease (like blight in the 1840's) could spring up and massive food shortages ensue.

Sorry for the rant, but it's best to nip this in the...er...bud.

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Re: Mandatory potato famine notice.

Anyone who posts that this spud...or it's patented mates.. would have prevented the Irish Potato Famine is a muppet. The problem then was a sociological/political one.

The potato famine was real, and deprived large sections of the poorest Irish people of their fundamental foodstuff. It is true that the response to the famine was a sociological/political disaster, largely because the absentee landlords simply couldn't imagine that potatoes were the only thing that many people had to eat, but to claim that the base problem was sociological/political is incorrect. Had the potato crop not failed for several successive years the problem would have been far less serious. Far fewer people would have died, or emigrated.

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Re: Mandatory potato famine notice.

The Lumper potato (that staple of the Irish tenant farmers which was nearly wiped out in the 1840s) is being grown again in Northern Ireland. If you’re over there, you might well be able to find some in the shops there.

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nil desperandum gloria aspidistra

What would happen if you crossed an Irish bog with a bag of carrots or something nonpotatoey?

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Re: Mandatory potato famine notice.

Nope ... meant BOTH cause and response. Anyone wonder why the Irish were growing spuds in the first place? Try growing wheat up the side of a mountain. You certainly can't plough that terrain. All the other land was for paying the rent to the land sharks. ( Absentee landlords had already outsourced their moral obligations, largely.)

The poor laws were the main problem.

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Re: nil desperandum gloria aspidistra

"What would happen if you crossed an Irish bog with a bag of carrots or something nonpotatoey?"

You'd get muddy feet either way

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Fantastic development

The field of genetics does seem to be advancing pretty well. Providing solutions to better protect our food sources can only be good. It is a shame how slow europe is to use the advantage developed over here and instead it is the US who will use the advantage.

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Frankenspud

Heard someone on the radio talking about this. He said that the phrase 'frankenstein food' was a 'blight' on the GM industry, but was pretty old hat now, and a completely erroneous description.

Nice to see the Reg dragging us back to Daily Mail land of the 90's.

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Re: Frankenspud

ElReg is, of course, using the word in its po-mo, ironic form.

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MJI
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GM Objections

To a lot of use the objections are not about GM as such but some of the strange things they were trying.

Swapping out genes from wild potatoes is fine, doesn't bother me as an example at all, good idea, same as those purple tomatos, all seems fine.

But when you start adding in jellyfish genes, this is what worries some people.

I get the feeling that the UK teams are simply a lot more cautious than some of the foreign ones. As some of their other aims has been nutrition and taste.

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misinformation

While introducing jelly fish genes or whatever to potatoes may make some people uncomfortable, you should consider that genetic material is rarely exclusive to any particular organism. For example, human beings share 36% of the DNA of a fruit fly, and 15% of that in mustard grass. If 'alien' genes can contribute to improving the crop, then where is the problem really?

It is true that we may be introducing genes and creating organisms that would not happen naturally, but subverting nature is hardly a new phenomenon. Human beings cannot fly or go into space, or swim 200m underwater, and yet science has enabled us to do these things too. We can cure countless diseases, avert some natural catastrophes and give some childless couples fertility that nature has denied them. All of this is playing 'god' too.

I suspect in 50 or 100 years, the bulk of the anti-GM lobby will appear as Luddites, what with their smashing up scientific trials and so on. Most environmental opposition is based on an ideological view that nature knows best, but they've happily watched scare stories being fed to the great unwashed such that the average UK tabloid reader thinks GM food is poisonous or causes cancer.

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Re: misinformation

My own objection to GM foods is less to do with any possible risks - which I suspect are a lot less than the anti lobby would have us fear - and more to do with the ethics of companies like Monsanto. Selling seeds for a food product which produce sterile offspring is all very well for the company producing them, but does leave us in a bit of a hole should they decide to stop.

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Re: misinformation

@ Neil Barnes

I thought there was some sort of legal thing around this because GM foods must be tightly controlled to make fearmongers happy? I might be wrong though.

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Re: misinformation

I dunno, CJ - just that my preference is for plants which have been selected to grow in *my* locale and which breed true, chosen for taste over yield and machine pickability. Arranging things so that the planter has no option but to buy new seeds every year doesn't strike me as the best of all possible worlds.

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@Neil Barnes

Terminator Seeds scary stuff or just a myth?

http://theconversation.com/terminator-seeds-will-not-usher-in-an-agricultural-judgement-day-21686

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Blight-resistant misunderstanding

My first thought was this was very timely, a potato able to grow in high-moist environments without rotting. Properly blighty-resistant. Clearly shows I'm a non-native English speaker, never occurred to me blight had multiple meanings.

Kudos to the agro-engineers. Downvote to Apple spell-checker wanting to change it into afro-engineers all the time.

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Happy

Whilst I enjoyed the science behind this...

The only thing I really need to know and care about, is do they taste good as chips ;)

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Happy

Re: Whilst I enjoyed the science behind this...

The specific variety they used is thoroughly confirmed as superior fry and mash material, and quite a hit with small-scale/private growers.

So yes.. Unless they b*ll*cked up it should give good chips.

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McCains

I'd buy oven-ready Franken chips, especially if they glow in the oven. Cooooool

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Sainsbury laboratory in Cambridge

Meanwhile, scientists at the Tesco laboratory in Oxford insisted that they would be the first to market with a potato that resists blight AND is more oil absorbent to produce better fries.

But researchers at the Fotnum & Mason laboratory in down-at-heel St. James announced that potatoes were not fashionable and recommended that customers looking for a budget alternative opt for truffles, which go well with a grouse or venison dish.

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"FRANKENSPUD"?

So you thought you'd hold of the inflammatory language this time then?

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Solanum Venturii

In a fit of inquisitiveness I tried 'solanum venturii' on Google Translate - no joy. So I Googled 'latin dictionary solanum' and 'latin dictionary venturii' .

This is a cutting from Google's top responses:

Urban Dictionary: solanum the virus. Solanum works by traveling through the bloodstream, from the initial point of entry to the brain...the virus mutates its cells into a completely new organ. The most critical trait of this new organ is its independence from oxygen..new organism is a zombie, a member of the living dead.

Wictionary: venturii. A constriction in the flow of air to the lungs.

The truth is out there folks!

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Not that disease resistance isn't worthwhile, but how come nobody ever genetically engineers foods to taste better? The closest I can recall hearing anybody working on was a non-eyewatering onion.

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:Old Handle

Not really necessary to use genetic modification to get better tasting crops. The older product, called heirlooms, taste great. The newer product, bred primarily for holding up to long transport and being easier for machines to handle, is in most people's opinion bland tasting. Mind you, as many stated above, some of the heirloom varieties themselves could be considered genetically modified since they were the result of cross breeding and other such manipulation. For many centuries plant breeders have been trying to cross the best tasting varieties with the most disease resistant varieties. For current home gardeners, most of us just use the best tasting and live with the reduced yield. Commercial growers need the higher yields.

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"Not that disease resistance isn't worthwhile, but how come nobody ever genetically engineers foods to taste better? The closest I can recall hearing anybody working on was a non-eyewatering onion."

This leads into my issues with GM food: I don't trust any of the modifers to make the food taste good, be good for you, or be good for the environment. If they could make a potato that had a ton of calories (because the brain likes calories), tastes like wood, but never rots, they'd be on it. And as long as it's 10% cheaper, all the grocery stores would be ordering by the bushel (and peck).

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Anonymous Coward

"The newer product, bred primarily for holding up to long transport and being easier for machines to handle, is in most people's opinion bland tasting."

The problem is that the issue of bland taste can apply to non-gm fruit and veg too, depending on where it's grown and how its transported (i.e. is it chilled or frozen for transport). Terroir, or the effect of the local climate, geography, soil conditions and topography of the growing region, is often referred to in relation to products such as wine, coffee and some teas... and even with regards to its effect on the taste of artisan cheeses according to the type of grass that the cattle have been fed on!

For example, here in the UK, I typically avoid buying Spanish tomatoes or strawberries, as they tend to be very bland in comparisson with their English equivalents - even if they are of the same variety.

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This is the arugment of "good" and "bad" GM.

Good GM (I'd suggest) are research teams modifying plants with "wild" genes to improve resistance to infections, insects and climate change while leaving them fertile enough to breed true for next year.

"Bad" GM is the stuff done by agrochems companies (especially Monsanto and it's follow on's) where the seeds are designed to be infertile (but in case their genes do spread to neighboring farms they will sue other farmers). These guys will then make such species resistant to their pest/herb/insect-icides.

Thumbs up for this effort. I think a more grown up debate does need to be had around GM food. I also think the agrichems companies have been remarkably arrogant in their handling of the situation.

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Happy

but...

Desiree - oh come on, they're an awful spud.

if they'd used Maris Piper, this would have relevance for the chip industry.

Any way, spuds are not legal tender in Norfolk, its Carrots and Sugarbeet, so this is clearly an export contract.

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