- Agronomic: potatoes
- Education and Training: extension
- Farm Business Management: value added
- Production Systems: general crop production
Consumer demand for fresh potato in the U.S. has been steadily decreasing since the 1990s (Figs. 1 and 2). This has directly impacted growers’ profitability and has been threatening the economic sustainability of the U.S. potato industry. Although the reasons for declining potato consumption are complex and have no single cause, negative comments from some nutritionists about potato in the diet, such as its association with weight gain, has been detrimental to potato perception by consumers and, therefore, to potato sales. In a 2010 survey conducted by the U.S. Potato Board, 55% of respondents reported various health-related statements as the worst things about potatoes (e.g. “Any good ways to prepare them are unhealthy, or at least have no nutritional value.”). In addition, a survey by the Oregon Potato Commission determined that the three factors that most influence consumer’s decisions to purchase potatoes are appearance, flavor, and nutritional value. These surveys reveal that health is the biggest challenge for potatoes. In an effort to remedy negative publicity about potato in the diet, there has been an increased demand from the stakeholders to develop cultivar-specific nutrition profiles with an aim toward advertising positive nutritional attributes and to focus breeding efforts toward enhancing the nutritional value of fresh potatoes, in addition to other traditionally targeted traits such as yield potential, biotic and abiotic stress resistance, processing qualities, bruising and shrinkage resistance, storability, and appearance. The Oregon Potato Breeding and Variety Development program plays a key role in the Tri-State (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) potato variety development program, with research focus on the aforementioned traits. Thus, the project focuses on (1) breeding for enhanced nutritional value, with an emphasis on vitamin B9, and (2) on educating growers, processors, extension educators, and consumers about the potential benefits of improved varieties. Vitamin B9 deficiency is one of the most widespread nutritional deficiencies worldwide and is associated with the increased risk of birth defects (e.g., spina bifida, anencephaly), strokes, cardiovascular diseases, anemia, some types of cancers, and impairment of cognitive performance. Good nutrition is the basis of a healthy and productive life, and potatoes should have a prominent role to play since it is part of our diet. Vitamin B9-enriched potatoes will help sustain the economic viability of potato farms and will enhance the basal intake level of nutrients by consumers.
Project objectives from proposal:
Objective #1: Screening of wild potato germplasm for high levels of vitamin B9
The graduate student will determine the range of vitamin B9 concentrations in tubers of a mini-core collection of 75 accessions representing 25 wild potato species. This objective will identify new sources of high folate germplasm which can further be used as parents in breeding efforts for vitamin B9 enhancement in potato. The screening is focused on wild species because they represent a tremendous genetic diversity in which we have previously found much higher vitamin B9 content than modern potato cultivars. The graduate student will determine vitamin B9 content in these genotypes and will use statistical analysis to determine accessions which have significantly higher vitamin B9 content than modern varieties (e.g., Russet Burbank). This objective will take four months of work.
Objective #2: Vitamin B9 determination in hybrid populations between high-vitamin B9 wild and primitive genotypes and diploid Solanum tuberosum
The graduate student will determine vitamin B9 content in tubers of two populations of hybrids which were generated by crossing previously-identified-high-vitamin B9 wild or primitive germplasm with diploid Solanum tuberosum L. These hybrids have two functions: (1) they represent the first step toward introgression of high vitamin B9 trait(s) into S. tuberosum; and (2) they are expected to segregate, and, if confirmed, they will be used as segregating populations for future genetic studies, including mapping quantitative trait loci and linked molecular marker identification for future marker assisted breeding (not part of this project's objectives). This objective will take four months of work.
Objective #3: Transcriptome analysis in low- versus high-vitamin B9 genotypes
The graduate student will analyze and compare the tuber transcriptome of low- versus high-vitamin B9 segregating individuals. This will enable the identification of genes whose expression is correlated with vitamin B9 content, or, in other words, genes which likely control vitamin B9 content in potato tuber. Data from this objective will be used for faster identification of quantitative trait loci associated with high vitamin B9 content. This objective will take one month of work.
Objective #4: Extension activities: transfer of technology, teaching, and learning
Project results will be shared with growers, extension faculty, county agents, and stakeholders during field days and extension meetings. The graduate student will interact with stakeholders and clientele during these activities. The graduate student will also disseminate his research results by publishing in scientific and extension journals. The graduate student will organize scientific activities for the Hydromania summer science camp which is designed to introduce rural eastern Oregon students who have completed the 4th and 5th grades to science with sessions for teachers. Research results will also be disseminated via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
Impacts and Outcomes:
Short term results:
- Foundation data for breeding efforts toward nutritional enhancement of potato: results from this project will enable the identification of high vitamin B9 germplasm and the characterization of segregating populations to be used for quantitative trait loci discovery.
- Awareness of potato as a healthy ingredient in the diet: extension activities will contribute to the education of consumers (kids, adults, growers, stakeholders, county agents) about positive attributes of potato in the diet.
Medium term results:
- Development and release of a vitamin B9-enriched potato variety: the graduate student's efforts are the first steps toward the development of a vitamin B9-enriched potato variety which also satisfies other important traits for the potato industry (e.g., disease resistance, yield…). Such potato variety will open the possibility to advertise the nutritional benefits of potato beyond the already well-known facts about vitamin C and potassium.
- Increase sales and new economic opportunities: the graduate student's educational efforts and the continuing educational efforts by HAREC staff that will ensue beyond this project will contribute to give a good perception of potato in consumers’ minds. As health is a major criterion in food purchase decisions, one can expect increased sales and new economic opportunities for the potato industry.
- Sustainability of the potato industry: the economic viability of the potato industry can be guaranteed only if consumers purchase potatoes. Continuing campaigns about the positive nutrition characteristics of potatoes, and the development of nutrient-enriched potato varieties by potato researchers, will contribute to the economic sustainability of the potato industry.
- Better nutrition and health for society: It has been estimated that a 2.7-fold increase in vitamin B9 levels in potato would be required in order to reach the RDA of 400 mg/day for a healthy adult if potato represents 80% of the daily intake of calories. Our data show that such increase in potato tuber vitamin B9 levels can be achieved by pre-breeding and breeding for high vitamin B9 from wild and primitive cultivated potatoes.