Potato freed of deadly disease

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Bangladeshi scientists have successfully field-tested a genetically modified (GM) potato resistant to late blight, one of the most devastating plant diseases caused by fungal attack.

After the last trial is over in February, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) will approach regulators for approval of the RB (blight resistant) gene-infused potato.

Once released, GM potato will be farmers’ answer to late blight, BARI officials have said.

Farmers in Bangladesh spend Tk 80 -100 crore a year in spraying 500 tonnes of fungicide to protect this major tuber crop.

With an annual output of nine million tonnes, Bangladesh is the 7th top potato-producing nation in the world.

Bangladesh apart, India, Indonesia and Uganda are also working for developing and releasing blight resistant GM potato.

Late blight, responsible for the 19th century Irish potato famine that had led to one million deaths from starvation, still affects more than 3 million hectares of potato crops globally and causes economic losses estimated at $ 2.75 billion a year, according to the International Potato Center (CIP), which is helping Uganda develop GM potato.

In Bangladesh, BARI is developing late blight resistant potato in cooperation with the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), a USAID-funded consortium of public and private sector institutions supporting scientists, regulators, extension workers, farmers and the general public in developing countries to make informed decisions about agricultural biotechnology.

ABSPII Country Coordinator G P Das told The Daily Star on Wednesday that trial of blight resistant potato was at an advanced stage now and it was up to the Bangladeshi regulators to decide when they would release the variety.

BARI Director General Dr Md Rafiqul Islam Mondal told this correspondent on Wednesday that after getting successive positive results from the fields over the last few years, his institute initiated in the current season a ‘regulatory trial’ – the last requisite prior to seeking varietal approval.

“We’ll seek approval from the regulators after necessary paperwork and data analysis once potato is harvested in February-March,” he added.

When released, blight resistant potato will be the second commercially released GM food crop in South Asia after Bt Brinjal, which was also released by Bangladesh in 2013.

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