July 28, 2017
Inside Canada's centre of excellence for potato research at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists maintain a living library of nearly 180 potentially high-value potato gene resources. Canada's potato gene bank- known as Canadian Potato Genetic Resources- is part of an international commitment to global food security.
If disease or a natural disaster strikes and potato crops are devastated, researchers from anywhere in the world can turn to the gene bank to rebuild stocks. Researchers can also call on the gene bank for help to develop varieties that are stronger, more disease-resistant and more environmentally resilient.
“We preserve some potato varieties that have unique value to northern latitude climates- varieties that are adapted to shorter seasons with longer daylight hours,” says Dr. Benoit Bizimungu, Gene Resources Curator at AAFC. “The potato industry only grows certain star varieties, so in the interest of preserving genetic diversity, an important part of our role is to ‘back up' our genetic resources.”
Unlike other gene banks that preserve seed-propagated crops (like grains), the potato gene bank contains live tissue cultures (or tubers) that are perishable and need constant maintenance. Plantlets are grown in aseptic conditions in test tubes stored in temperature-controlled growth chambers for six to eight weeks at a time.
The collection is then refreshed, continuously monitored and periodically tested for contamination. Microtubers- tiny potatoes about the size of a raisin- are also produced in test tubes and preserved for up to a year as a back-up.
Key facts about Canadian Potato Gene Resources
- The potato gene bank is a living library composed of test tube plantlets, greenhouse and field-grown tubers and microtubers.
- Its focus is to preserve genetic resources that have unique value in northern Canada.
- The gene bank is part of an international commitment to preserve, document and distribute genetic resources for research, conservation and education.
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