WUR researcher Daniel Moñino-López made a breakthrough in fighting late bligh disease. With the gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas, he made potato plants resistant to late blight disease caused by Phytophthora infestans.
Potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat in terms of human consumption. But potato world production is threatened by potato late blight, one of the most devastating potato diseases which causes globally 3-10 billion euros in yield loss and management costs annually.
Moñino-López defended his PhD Thesis on Friday April 14 at Wageningen University & Research (WUR). His research whas funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment.
Moñino-López used the gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas to modify non-functional resistance genes from potato varieties that are susceptible to late blight into gene variants that are found in wild potato species, which are resistant to Phytophthora infestans. Such edited plants allow a drastic reduction of pesticides to control the late blight disease.
Conventional breeding to introduce resistance genes from wild relatives of potato into new potato varieties that have sufficient quality for cultivation and use takes decades, while the disease quickly adapts. The CRISPR/Cas technology has the potential to change the food and agricultural industries by making the breeding of new, improved varieties faster and more precise. Moreover, this technology has the potential to be employed for a wide range of traits, including resistances to other diseases and pests, nutritional contents, and flavor.
Although CRISPR/Cas can be deployed in any crop, it is of particular interest in crops (like potato) with tedious, time-consuming breeding processes. This prevents a timely response of farmers to the occurrence of new strains of a pathogen or other environmental changes. So, editing of genes that are native to crops that already have a history of safe use, is a fast, precise and safe way to improve popular varieties and lower their environmental footprint.