Potato Review

Scientistsmake gene breakthrough in ght against weeds A team of scientists from Rothamsted Research has successfully adapted genetic techniques developed for crop improvement to be used in weeds – allowing them, for the first time, to directly study the genetics responsible for herbicide resistance. Since the invention of weed killers, farmers have been caught in a never- ending arms race with weeds – from the moment of first spraying weeds start to develop resistance to the chemicals – and year on year, the armoury is shrinking. Writing in the journal Plant Physiology, the group reports that it has used plant viruses to switch weed genes o, or alternatively, ramp up the production of specific proteins by weeds in the laboratory. This means that these researchers can now directly show that a specific gene is required for herbicide resistance, or else is su cient to confer it. Lead researcher Dr Dana MacGregor s aid the research was a ‘game-changer’ for weed genetics. Her latest study focuses on blackgrass. Studies have shown that herbicide resistant black-grass could cost £1 billion every year in the UK alone. Whilst researchers have previously identified genes that are over-represented in black-grass populations with herbicide resistance, there has been no way of genetically manipulating the weeds. This means scientists have been unable to show that the genes they have identified are even involved - or understand how they provide resistance in the plant. Dana said: “Weeds are arguably one of the most economically important groups of plant species. They have major agronomic and environmental impacts and aect food security. To be able to design and deploy weed management strategies that are both eective and sustainable, we must first understand what genes allow black-grass to avoid the current control practices. “These virus-mediated techniques allow us to bring black-grass into the lab and ask questions about how specific genes works like we have never been able to before.” Dana’s team used two methods that were developed for studying crop plants, with both taking advantage of the pathways plants and their viruses use to fight one another. These are called Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) and Virus-mediated overexpression (VOX). The team first inserted their gene of interest into a virus, and then infected the weed with it. During VIGS, the plant tries to defend itself and in the process shuts down production of all genes coming from the virus - including the weed’s own copies of the inserted gene - whereas during VOX, both the virus’ and the inserted gene’s copies manufacture proteins for the plant. Having shown that the techniques worked using the appropriate controls, including inducing loss of green colour and making the plants fluoresce, they then turned their attention to genes implicated in herbicide resistance. This time they used gene silencing to turn o a gene previously thought to confer herbicide resistance. This made previously resistance plants susceptible, thereby proving the involvement of the gene. They also managed to make previously susceptible weeds resistant to the weed killer glufosinate by introducing a gene for an enzyme that renders the chemical inactive. According to Dana, although these techniques can be further improved, the VIGS and VOX techniques they have established oer a step change in the type of questions that can now be asked in weed biology. “Of main importance will be to apply these techniques to establish a link between specific genes and ability of black grass to circumvent chemical controls, and thereby to gain a molecular level understanding of what allows black grass to be such a successful weed.” This work was supported by the Smart Crop Protection Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, part of UKRI. 6 POTATO REVIEW MAY/JUNE 2020 NEWS Farming co-op launches £400k funding bid The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) has today announced the launch of a major funding round to raise £400k through the ethical investment platform Ethex. ELC, the only social enterprise in England & Wales to oer small-scale farms to ecological land users, is aiming to use the funding to develop 18 new small farms on 6 new sites by the end of 2023. This would bring the total of the ELC’s small farms to 30. Established in 2009, the ELC oers aordable, low impact, small farms, encouraging new entrants into the sustainable farming industry to address an ageing population of farmers, barriers to land ownership and unprecedented environmental concerns. The ELC was launched to regenerate rural areas, putting healthy food and healthy planet centre stage. As well as stimulating the farming sector, the co-op helps to improve soil health, boost biodiversity and invigorate rural communities. For further information, please visit www.ethex.org.uk/elc2020. Sustainable roadmap Developed in collaboration with leading trade bodies and industry organisations, a newly-launched Food Waste Reduction Roadmap Grower Guidance includes two practical ‘how-to’ guides and dedicated tools for in-field measurement. Developed by WRAP, the not for profit organisation founded which works with government, businesses and individuals to champion sustainable use of resources sustainably, the roadmap aims to helpi growers increase productivity and realise financial savings. For further information, please visit www.wrap.org.uk/roadmap- grower-guidance. ANEWpurplepotato recently launched intoTesco fromgrower, Branston, entitled ‘Violet Queen’. The new bright purple variety which was sold in selected Tesco stores across the UK during March and April maintains its highly pigmented purple hue once cooked. Purple potatoes launched in stores

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