ITHACA, N.Y. -- In the 1840's, the late blight fungus, P. Infestans, swept across the potato fields of Ireland, turning the vegetables into a rotten mess and leaving the country's people to fight a losing battle against famine. A million Irish perished, and a great many others left the country to land on North American shores.
Now the fungus might have met its match in a potato developed at Cornell University, the New York 121.
This small, mild-mannered white potato is able to fend off late blight as well as other pests such as golden nematodes, scab and potato virus Y (PVY) in a single bound.
"This is another in a short line of potatoes resistant to late blight," says Robert Plaisted, Cornell professor emeritus of plant breeding. "Resistance to late blight is one of the hardest things to breed for in potatoes."
The new potato, says Plaisted, is the best clone available that is resistant to both races of golden nematode. "Its additional resistance to late blight, scab and PVY is a rare combination."
Plaisted and his colleagues, Bill Brodie and William Fry, professors in Cornell's plant pathology department, will introduce the new potato at the New York State Vegetable Conference in Liverpool, N.Y., on Feb. 8.
The development of New York 121 dates back more than 30 years when Plaisted acquired seeds of potato varieties grown in the Andes mountains of South America. Repeated selection for adaptation to the New York region and for disease resistance produced the selection E74-7, the mother of NY 121. This selection was important because of its extreme resistance to potato mosaic viruses.
In 1984 Plaisted obtained seeds from the International Potato Center in Peru that had resistance to multiple races of the golden nematode, a soil-borne pest. One generation of breeding produced N43-288, the male parent of New York 121. This parent is mostly of Peruvian ancestry, but includes a wild species from Argentina.
By dusting the female's (E74-7) pistil with the male's (N43-288) pollen nine years ago, Plaisted bred a potato with multiple resistance. Typically it takes 14 years to bring a newly tested and developed potato to market, but New York 121 took less than a decade. In addition to its ability to resist late blight, scab and certain nematodes, it's a mid-season potato that will be good for boiling, perhaps even baking. This is not a good potato, though, for making French fries or chips.
"We need more accurately to measure its yielding ability and the practical value of this blight resistance in terms of reduced sprays. Growers impacted by golden nematodes should be particularly interested in this potato," says Plaisted.
The seed for New York 121 could be available as early as next season from the New York Foundation Seed Farm at Lake Placid, N.Y., operated by Cornell's plant pathology department.
As for the New York 121, Brodie explains there are yield trade-offs in exchange for disease resistance, but overall he is happy about the potato.
"This may not be an end product," he says, "but it is a good start to getting that end product with multiple resistance characteristics."
In addition to the New York 121, Cornell also is introducing two other potato varieties, Keuka Gold and Eva. Keuka Gold is a yellow-flesh potato, good for boiling, which will be known for its flavor and high yields. It is also resistant to scab and golden nematodes. Eva has a bright white skin, also good for boiling, and it is resistant to the mosaic virus, golden Nematode, and scab. It has an unusually long tuber dormancy, which means the potato can be stored longer.
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