OSU Part of Major Potato Initiative

SciShort_3_3_16Potatoes are insanely important to the world’s food security. In fact, it’s the fourth most consumed staple in the world, so threats to the crop’s global safety are among the most important challenges we face as a species. Now OSU has joined an international study attempting to get to the bottom of the problem with a pest, a teeny worm, that can only be controlled currently with highly toxic pesticides.

Dr. Dee Denver is a genomicist from OSU’s College of Science who has joined with scientists from as close as Idaho and as far as France and Scotland, on a $3.2 million project made possible by funding from the USDA.

The focus of the study will be mainly on two nematodes (worms) that are particularly destructive and can only be controlled with methyl bromide (read: not good for humans and other living things). While the worms don’t eat the potatoes themselves, they do parasitize the roots which can drastically reduce yields.

Denver commented on the newly minted deal in a press release, saying “We’re hoping to replace fumigation with integrated pest-control strategies. A key piece of that will be developing resistant potato varieties.”

Obviously that statement will trigger some worrying from anti-GMO corners, but the importance of the crop can’t be understated. US potato crops are worth some $4 billion per year, and $180 million of that is in Oregon alone.

Dr. Inga Zasada is a USDA researcher on the project, an expert on nematodes and an OSU faculty member as well. She commented on the importance of the study in the same press release.

“The nematode problem has a global reach, in addition to posing a significant threat to Northwest and US potato industries,” Zasada said.

In other words, we’re going to have to work together to save our French fries from these nasty little worms. French fries are the most important thing to everyone the world over, right? That’s not just me, is it?

By Sidney Reilly