Press Release


A field trial of GM potatoes is being planted this week to test whether genes from wild relatives can successfully protect commercial potato varieties from late blight – the disease that caused the Irish potato famine – without the need to spray fungicides.

British farmers spray on average 15 times a year to protect against potato late blight.

“We have isolated genes from two different wild potato species that confer blight resistance,” said Professor Jonathan Jones from the Sainsbury Laboratory on Norwich Research Park. “Similar genes are found in all plants, and we are now testing whether these ones work in a field environment to protect a commercial potato variety, Desiree, against this destructive potato disease.”

Cultivated potatoes originate from South America, and scientists have been screening species from this region to identify genes that give the plants resistance to late blight. They identified two genes and have grown two separate lines of potato to test each gene. The two sets of plants are now ready to be planted out to see if the genes work against races of late blight that circulate naturally in the UK.

The wild South American species are inedible and produces tiny tubers, so scientists sieved out just the genes of interest from the 30,000 or so in their genomes. The Sainsbury Lab has filmed a video over the last few months to show how the commercial potato variety receives the protective gene.

The video can also be viewed at:

More information about the trial can also be found at:

The research is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


TSL Press Office
Zoe Dunford, Tel: 01603 255111, email:
Andrew Chapple, Tel: 01603 251490, email:

Notes to editors

Last year the scientists published a paper detailing their discovery of one of the resistance genes, which was previously uncharacterised: “Rpi-vnt1.1, a Tm-22 Homolog from Solanum venturii, Confers Resistance to Potato Late Blight”, Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, Vol. 22, No. 5, 2009, pp. 589–600. doi:10.1094/MPMI -22-5-0589

About the Sainsbury Laboratory

The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) is a world-leading research centre focusing on making fundamental discoveries about plants and how they interact with microbes. TSL is evolving its scientific mission so that it not only provides fundamental biological insights into plant-pathogen interactions, but also delivers novel, genomics-based, solutions which will significantly reduce losses from major diseases of food crops, especially in developing countries.


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

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