Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Using DNA, Scientists Hunt For The Roots Of The Modern Potato

Date:
February 4, 2008
Source:
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Summary:
More than 99 percent of all modern potato varieties planted today are the direct descendants of varieties that once grew in the lowlands of south-central Chile. How Chilean germplasm came to dominate the modern potato -- which spread worldwide from Europe -- has been the subject of a long, contentious debate among scientists.

Botanist David Spooner (right) and Alberto Salas of the International Potato Center in Peru collect potato germplasm during an expedition in Peru.
Credit: Alejandro Balaguer

More than 99 percent of all modern potato varieties planted today are the direct descendants of varieties that once grew in the lowlands of south-central Chile. How Chilean germplasm came to dominate the modern potato-which spread worldwide from Europe-has been the subject of a long, contentious debate among scientists.

Related Articles


While some plant scientists have maintained that Chilean potatoes were the first to be planted in Europe, a more widely accepted story holds that European potatoes were originally descended from plants grown high in the Andes mountains between eastern Venezuela and northern Argentina. According to this theory, Andean potatoes were wiped out during the Great Irish Potato Famine, the 19th-century late-blight epidemic that devastated potato fields across Europe, initiating the import of Chilean varieties to re-establish the crop.

In a report published recently in the American Journal of Botany, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Mercedes Ames and David Spooner say both theories are wrong. By analyzing the DNA of historical potato specimens, the researchers found that both Chilean and Andean potatoes were grown in Europe decades before and decades after the famine, the first direct evidence that the potatoes were grown simultaneously in Europe.

"Basically, we found that the Andean potatoes got to Europe first, around 1700. However, Chilean potatoes were starting to get popular there 34 years before the late blight epidemic," says Ames, a graduate student in UW-Madison's plant breeding and plant genetics program. The results also show that Andean potatoes grew as late as 1892 in Europe, proving they weren't polished off by the late blight epidemic-and that they grew side by side with Chilean potatoes for many decades before the Chilean types became dominant.

To start the project, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, Ames visited herbaria throughout Europe in search of early potato specimens. She requested hole-punch sized samples of dried leaf tissue from appropriate specimens be sent to Madison for study, eventually ending up with material from 64 potato plants grown between 1700 and 1910.

"Some of these samples were over 300 years old and not ideally preserved," says Spooner, a professor of horticulture and USDA researcher who is the paper's corresponding author. "It took considerable innovation for Mercedes to work out the correct technique to get DNA from them."

After successfully extracting DNA from 49 samples, Ames analyzed each using a DNA marker that distinguishes between upland Andean and lowland Chilean potato types. The result is a biochemical record of ancestry, which Spooner says adds hard evidence to a debate often premised on guesswork.

"The problem with these two theories is that they rely on inferences based on the morphology of old plant samples, as well as inferences based on historical records about day-length adaptation, shipping routes, and the role of the late blight epidemic," he says. "Our work is the first direct evidence-as opposed to the inferential evidence used in prior studies-on the origin of the European potato because the herbarium specimens we used are like fossils."

Spooner notes that this type of analysis could help set the record straight for many other crop species. "Potato is one of the prominent stories in crop evolution books," says Spooner. "Because of Mercedes's work, they're going to have to rewrite the textbooks."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Using DNA, Scientists Hunt For The Roots Of The Modern Potato." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080129160727.htm>.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2008, February 4). Using DNA, Scientists Hunt For The Roots Of The Modern Potato. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080129160727.htm
University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Using DNA, Scientists Hunt For The Roots Of The Modern Potato." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080129160727.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

Buzz60 (Dec. 17, 2014) Urbanspoon predicts whicg food trends will dominate the culinary scene in 2015. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) NASA's Curiosity rover detected methane on Mars and organic compounds on the surface, but it doesn't quite prove there was life ... yet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins