Better selection tools for a future-proof pot

image: In the Ecuadorian Andes, a region full of wild plants related to various crops, the potato is an important crop for food security.
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Credit: Bioversity Alliance and CIAT/Manon Koningstein

Through collaboration between researchers around the world, including the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculturepotato breeders will now have a much better toolbox to develop new varieties better suited to their needs in a changing climate.

More than 1.3 billion people eat potatoes as a staple food, making it the third most important food crop after wheat and rice, but the way potatoes reproduce means new cultivars can take up to 40 to 50 years to hit the market. the market.

Researchers based in Hawaii, the Americas and London have found that it is essential that breeders have access to the best possible information to make informed decisions about breeding strategies that will lead to the desired traits needed in a changing climate.

In their Food and energy security paper “Potato wild relatives may enhance its adaptation to new niches in future climate scenarios“, the researchers claim that up to 12.5% ​​of the current cultivated potato climate will shift to new regions by 2070.

“But if we want to have something new by 2050, we have to make the decision by 2030,” says Michael Kantar, a assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and one of the paper’s co-authors.

Kantar says that by identifying useful traits — like local adaptability and climatic flexibility — in some of the dozens of wild potato varieties (and how well they interbreed), researchers could help breeders reduce the time and cost of developing new cultivars.

“Traditionally, if you have 72 potential potato species, then take 10 samples and cross them with your favorite cultivar, you’ll evaluate in multiple regions – that’s a lot of time and money,” he said. , adding that starting with knowing which crosses might successfully interbreed would reduce the number of test plants needed.

Nathan Fumia, a researcher in the Department of Tropical Plants and Soil Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Honolulu and another co-author of the paper, says most potatoes, wild and domesticated, have been sequenced in one way or another.

Another one paperalso authored by Fumia, titled “Interactions between mating system and ploidy affect niche width in Solanum” was published in the Royal Society Open Science and examined a wide range of potato species and their phylogenetics , that is, the evolutionary history and relationships between individuals or groups of organisms.

“Looking at the phylogenetics, we were looking for a proxy for whether it can be outcrossed: if it’s more closely related, it’s more likely that it can be outcrossed,” Fumia said.

Fumia and his co-authors found that decoupling geographic range and niche diversity would help identify species that might be of particular interest for crop adaptation to climate change.

“That’s something we saw that was missing in the literature and that was the framework for what we looked at in the other paper,” he said.

Kantar says that rather than imposing new breeds on new regions, genetic data analyzed by researchers can help provide useful information to facilitate local breeding.

“What we want to do is give them a tool on their own conception of how they want their own food system to work,” Kantar said.

Colin Khoury, co-author of the two papers and researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and director of science and conservation at the San Diego Botanic Garden, said the role of CIAT had a long history of research into the wild relatives of crops and in particular into understanding their conservation status. through the use of geospatial tools.

Khoury explained that Kantar worked at CIAT as a postdoc and trained with the organization in the use of these tools and methods.

“This continues in his current work as shown in the two papers just published and we continue to collaborate with the Kantar lab and have been happy to help mentor their students,” Khoury said,

“These two papers develop new methods or use ever more relevant data related to the use of wild relatives for crop breeding,” he said, adding that one uses information about their genetic systems and their reproductive strategies; and the other by better understanding their ecological niches with reference to likely growth areas for potato cultivation in the future.

“Both of these provide additional value in terms of what wild relatives can contribute to crop improvement,” Khoury said.

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