Food manufacturers and producers have seen an increasing backlash toward genetically modified ingredients. Due to strong opposition, there are currently no GM potatoes on the market in the US, but senior vice president of research at Cibus Peter Beetham told FoodNavigator-USA.com that he sees it as “old technology”.
The Cibus/NEU Seed collaboration will use Cibus’s Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS) to develop the new potato traits, initially focusing on developing hardier potatoes with less black-spot bruising, to improve productivity for farmers and bring better quality potatoes to manufacturers and consumers.
Developing new traits in potatoes, whether to prevent bruising or to make them more resistant to viruses, is a process that can take decades using traditional breeding techniques, Beetham said, but he stressed that RTDS is not GM either.
“It’s a new technology that really uses the natural processes in plants,” he said. “…It’s really on the tail of genomics, really understanding the gene sequences of plants. We’re able to go in at a single cell level…It’s very hard to do traditional breeding with potatoes.”
It is estimated that bruising costs the US potato industry $300m a year, and NEU Seed estimates that black spot accounts for about 60 percent of that.
Beetham said that this is problematic for manufacturers of French fries for example, in that black spot creates dark spots on fries, making them less appealing to consumers. And in addition to reducing wastage and improving profitability for food manufacturers and farmers, Cibus said its RTDS technology could also help reduce pesticide use and improve environmental sustainability of potato production.
“The processors are able to use more of the product so farmers don’t have as many losses, which can mean reductions in cost,” he said. “…By reducing pesticide use, it allows them to have less input cost, so there is a cost advantage.”
The company explained that RTDS technology uses “the potato’s natural process of gene repair to effect a precise change in the genetic sequence. By mimicking natural methods in a highly targeted way, RTDS technology avoids the introduction of foreign genetic material into plants.”
It added that the technology is recognized by the US Department of Agriculture as a mutagenesis technique, rather than a transgenic (or GM) technique, and is used globally in a wide range of food crops. Mutagenesis technology is not subject to the same regulatory processes as GM technology so it is possible to get new traits more quickly to market.