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Designing the low input potato

Designing the low input potato

Late blight remains a threat to the Irish and EU potato industry year after year, causing ~€1 billion in losses each year across the EU alone. In this article, Dr. Amanpreet Kaur tells us more about the research work being undertaken as part of the ESoLaB project in Teagasc Oak Park.

To deal with the disease to date, farmers have to rely solely on chemicals, with ~12 sprays each season to preserve yield and quality. Annual fungicide related expenses to combat the impact of late blight disease on potato crops accounts ~€5 million in Ireland.

In the absence of these control measures, the disease can cause up to 30% crop loss subject to Irish climatic conditions. To make matters worse, the introduction of new chemical regulations by the EU combined with decreasing effectiveness of commonly used fungicides means that we need to find more sustainable ways to control late blight.

Late blight, like any disease, has the ability to evolve rapidly to overcome challenges. Recent studies have shown that the Irish population of late blight are indeed changing, which is a sign of its ability to adjust with changing environmental conditions.

By studying the factors driving this change in late blight populations and how new late blight populations interact with the environment, the ESoLaB project (funded by Horizon 2020) at Teagasc Oak Park aims to develop new disease control strategies to minimise the continued threat of late blight to sector profitability.

To do this, ESoLaB is surveying the genetic mechanisms within late blight that support its ability to adapt and evolve into new strains. By investigating these networks, we are able to identify the gene(s) that trigger late blight to adapt.

Once we identify these genes, the plan is to use them as a ‘DNA fingerprint’ and hence survey larger populations of late blight to determine their propensity to rapidly change against, for example, a new resistant variety.

The advantage of this IPM approach is that it provides an ‘early warning’ system for growers to tell them that certain disease breaking strains are in the environment and thus additional control measures are required.

In turn, this will help us to identify potato varieties that can resist late blight more effectively and will also allow us to study historical samples to track changes in the late blight populations over the years. With this knowledge, more effective and sustainable strategies to control late blight disease will be developed, thereby supporting the development of novel late blight resistant potato varieties that can better withstand the disease with prolonged effectiveness.

More information on potatoes

Read about the Potato Breeding Programme

Download the Growing Potato Fact Sheet