Irish research group applies for GM potato trial licence

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

The Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Teagasc, have applied to field test genetically modified, blight resistant, potatoes as part of a new EU research project.

The Irish authority will apply for a licence to undertake a series of field studies using GM potatoes resistant to potato late blight disease – to determine the potential impact the technology could have on biodiversity and soil ecosystems.

Dr Ewen Mullins, of Teagasc, told FoodNavigator that the trials would form part of a wider EU project called ‘AMIGA’.

He explained the initiative would investigate many aspects of GM monitoring and evaluation, including improving knowledge on the long term impacts of specific GM crops, and identifying bio-indicators that would allow for better integration of GM research.

“Our part is just one area, and that is to look at GM potatoes modified for blight resistance,”he explained.

Mullins added that one of the main things to understand about the project was that it was part of a wider framework.“The issues we are dealing with are not Irish specific, but apply across the whole of Europe.”

He said that the wider EU project would look at both insect resistant maize and blight resistant potatoes, because they are the two crops authorised for use in Europe currently.

“From an Irish point of view, the AMIGA project works well with our goals because we have a potato sector that is solely reliant on the use of fungicides, and we have EU legislation that is restricting the use of fungicides and eliminating certain chemicals … So the use of fungicides is not sustainable into the future,”Mullins explained.“We have to look for alternatives.”

GM research

“We need to quantify the long term impact of growing GM blight resistant potatoes,” said Mullins, who noted that currently ‘conventional potatoes’ in Ireland receive“at a minimum about 13 and possibly up to 17 sprays of fungicide per growing season.”

“That’s a phenomenal fungicide load,”said Mullins.“The GM lines that we will be using have been modified with a single wild potato gene, and that confers very strong resistance to blight disease, which means the line shouldn’t require and fungicide at all.”

“That’s what we suspect, but we need to test that, and look at the impact of that line on soil biodiversity,”he explained.

Mullins said that the new trials will gauge if, when, and how the bacteria that cause blight disease (Phytophthora infestans) evolve, as this has knock-on effects on plant and animal biodiversity.

“The GM study is about gauging the environmental impact of growing GM potatoes in Ireland and monitoring how the pathogen, which causes blight, and the ecosystem reacts to GM varieties in the field over several seasons,”explained

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