Saving the spud and engaging the public

Potato Q&A“How do you breed potatoes to taste nice?” “Can we use microbes to fight potato pathogens?” ”How is late blight spread?”

These were just some of the many questions sent in by the public to grill a panel of four potato researchers during the last Sense About Science live online Q&A . The session covered the threats faced by the humble spud and what some of the solutions to these threats might be.

Dr David Cooke and Dr Glenn Bryan from the James Hutton Institute provided their knowledge on potato breeding and the notorious late blight disease, answering questions on whether Phytophthora infestans will always overcome resistance genes or if we can simply grow potatoes in greenhouses to avoid infection. They were joined by Dr Andre Dacacche, a potato irrigation systems specialist and former Academic Fellow at Cranfield University, who was able to respond to questions relating to climate change and in what way it may hinder or benefit late blight spread as well as yield. Professor Jonathan Jones from The Sainsbury Laboratory also took part, discussing his project that has recently been awarded BBSRC funding, which will develop a GM potato containing genes for resistance to late blight and potato cyst nematode.

The Plant Science Panel at the charity Sense About Science is an online community of over 60 scientists from institutions and learned societies across the UK, including the UK Plant Sciences Federation. The panellists cover a broad range of expertise and offer a standing invitation to the public to ask any question about plant science. Questions are normally sent in response to research or issues reported in the media or online, sometimes carried out by the panellists themselves.

Frequent live online Q&As cover topics which frequently hit the headlines. “What are the threats to potatoes?” was the 16th live online event and previous Q&As have tackled subjects such as “What does ‘natural’ actually mean?”,Insecticides and bees” and “Genome editing – is it GM?”. The Q&As provide a valuable long lasting library of balanced evidence based discussion.

We’re always looking to expand the panel so if you would like to offer your expertise please get in contact via email:

By Chelsea Snell, Campaigns Intern at Sense About Science.

This entry was posted in agriculture, biotechnology, crop improvement, genetics, horticulture, plant breeding, plant pathology, plant science, sustainability, UK Plant Sciences Federation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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