Coming Soon, The Not So Humble Potato With More Vitamin C Than A Lemon

Potatoes

Potatoes with as much vitamin C as a lemon could be grown and sold in England within five years using “game-changing” gene-editing technology, the scientists predicted.

Researchers at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee were able to “double” the amount of vitamin C in a new potato variety by cutting sections of its DNA.

Lemons and oranges contain approximately 53mg of vitamin C per 100g.

But Professor Derek Stewart, director of the institute’s Advanced Plant Growth Center, told The Telegraph that his team managed to increase the levels in one potato to around 40 mg.

He said the team would look to “exceed” that number “significantly more” to compensate for the loss of vitamin C that occurs during cooking.

Other developing potato strains

They are also developing strains that cook in a third of the time, have greater resistance to disease, heat and pesticides with no loss of flavor.

Gene editing, a separate process from genetic modification, involves cutting a small section of a plant’s DNA, allowing researchers to quickly develop new strains of crops that would take decades through natural crossbreeding.

Potatoes are an especially suitable candidate for gene editing, as more resistant strains can be exported to poorer countries with more extreme climates and provide up to three times the yield.

In Malawi, farmers typically harvest 14 tonnes of potatoes per hectare. In the UK, the figure is 60 tonnes.

‘It will change everything’

Professor Stewart said: “It will be transformative, that’s the word. I wouldn’t say disturbing. It will change everything.

“We are facing yet another food crisis. We have seven and a half billion on the planet, you will fight to feed them all. You have to adjust the plan, that’s it, we call it accelerated playback.

“It’s a transformative tool, that’s how it should be viewed.”

Current environmental legislation allows gene-edited crops to be grown and sold in England, but is banned in Scotland and Wales.

Asked when we might expect supermarkets to stock gene-edited crops, Professor Stewart predicted “within five years.”

He emphasized that there would be no loss of flavor in “any way” for gene-edited potatoes, as molecular inbreeding technologies “are so specific in what you get.”

He added: “What you want to do is improve or change the bad parts… actually what you’re doing is adapting the texture to give it a different mouthfeel. Some people like a slightly more waxy potato, others a more floury potato.

“We can develop the technologies that allow you to change a lot of things.”

Mixed views on gene editing

The EU has decided that genetically modified crops must be treated in the same way as genetically modified crops which are subject to incredibly strict regulations.

But Brexit has now allowed the UK government to produce its own legislation and Downing Street has encouraged decentralized nations to adopt the technology.

In a speech at the Royal Highland Show on Thursday, Lord Malcolm Offord, Scotland’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, said that gene editing is not genetic modification, but “an update on what plant men have done for generations”.

He said: “The science is safe and proven and it is up to us, at a time of international conflict, to look for ways to maximize the safe domestic food supply.”

However, Mairi McAllan, Scotland’s environment minister, said they remain opposed to the use of genetic modification in agriculture, “to protect Scotland’s £15bn clean and green food and drink industry brand”.

She said that while the government is closely monitoring scientific and other considerations on decoupling genetic modification and editing, “our position has not changed and the UK bill does not change that”.

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