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EC-sponsored Research on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms - A Review of Results
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image Evaluating new traits for potato in the Central Andes with an appropriate poverty focus

Background and objectives

There are large potato yield losses caused by indigenous nematode pests in the central Andes. It is possible to counter this problem by genetic modification. Resistance to the pest can be conferred on potato roots by the expression of genes from other food crops (e.g. rice and maize). Nematode control has been achieved in UK field trials and did not cause any adverse effects on non-target insects. This project aims to evaluate the risks to non-target animals and soil micro-organisms in the central Andes. Biosafety risks, common to all genetically modified organisms, will be considered. Risks to non-target organisms and of “genetic pollution” are to be determined. These include the risk of transferring modified genes into wild relatives of the potato via pollen. A cautious approach should be adopted to assess and minimise this risk. The aim is to determine whether genetically modified potatoes can be grown in the central Andes with a high level of environmental biosafety.

  A potato plant in a greenhouse trial. image A potato plant in a greenhouse trial.
Photo: PBIU, University of Leeds.
  A Bolivian farmer examining a nematode infested potato crop. A significant proportion of the crop is lost to nematode damage each year. image A Bolivian farmer examining a nematode-infested potato crop. A significant proportion of the crop is lost to nematode damage each year.
  Globodera pallida known as the potato cyst nematode. Open cyst with eggs. image Open cyst with eggs of the Globodera pallida, known as the potato cyst nematode.
Normal Host image On a normal host the nematodes feed on plant roots and grow normally. They become enlarged with eggs.
Transgenic resistance image Transgenic resistance prevents the nematodes from digesting their food properly. Without adequate nutrition they are unable to grow to their normal egg-laying size.

Approach and methodology

Previously developed methods will be used to quantify the risks of genetic transfer from genetically modified organisms to non-target organisms. Models to be studied include bumblebees, earthworms and various predators. It is important to determine the amount of gene transfer between the genetically modified potato and its wild relatives because they are sexually compatible. Gene transfer in potatoes will be measured as a function of planting distance by berry number on a male sterile cultivar. For weed species, AFLP molecular markers will be used to quantify gene transfer. The feasibility of reducing introgression to negligible levels by use of male and female sterile potato cultivars will be determined. If biosafety is assured and consent is obtained from growers and consumers, nematode resistance will be offered on a royalty-free basis to farmers with poor resources.
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Contract number

November 2000 – October 2003

H.J. Atkinson
University of Leeds (UK)

Project website address



R. Visser
Wageningen Agricultural University (NL)

J. Franco
Promoción e Investigación de Productos Andinos
Cochabamba (BO)

E. Carbonell
Servicio Nacional de Sanidad Agraria (SENASA)
Lima (PE)

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