Scientists crack the £3.5bn potato disease

Scientists have produced a series of genetically modified potatoes that are resistant to one of their biggest threats – a disease that costs the world up to £3.5bn ($5.8bn/€4.2bn) each year.

In a three year study scientists managed to boost the resistance of Desiree potatoes to stop the onset of blight, which was responsible for the Irish Potato famine in 1845. It is hoped their work will reduce food wastage as well as producing environmental benefits due to a reduction in chemicals being sprayed on crops.

As a result of the study, during which the scientists used no fungicides, The Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre produced a potato that was immune to late blight.

The study came to a head in 2012 when the test potatoes experienced ideal conditions for late blight. The scientists did not inoculate any plants but waited for traces of late blight to blow into the testing area naturally.

All of the genetically modified plants were resistant to the blight until the end of the experiment when all of the non-modified plants were infected.

The developments could significantly change the potato industry, which currently experiences more than £3.5bn of losses on an annual basis. This could not only lead to environmental benefits but help to increase the overall world food supply.

In the UK farmers spray fungicides 10-15 times to reduce losses to blight, which releases chemicals into the environment. It is hoped that growing blight-resistant crops will reduce the crop losses to the disease and reduce the number of times they need to be sprayed.

Scientists hope to replace chemical control with genetic control, though farmers might be advised to spray even resistant varieties at the end of a season, depending on conditions. Other blight-resistant potatoes already exist but are not widely available in the market because of other deficiencies.

For future development and to try and bring the research into the commercial potato market the scientists will now work with American potato company Simplot and the James Hutton Institute to develop the resistant genes. They hope to fully develop Desiree and Maris Piper varieties that will resist late blight.

Professor Jonathan Jones from The Sainsbury Laboratory said: “Breeding from wild relatives is laborious and slow and by the time a gene is successfully introduced into a cultivated variety, the late blight pathogen may already have evolved the ability to overcome it,”

“With new insights into both the pathogen and its potato host, we can use GM technology to tip the evolutionary balance in favour of potatoes and against late blight.”

The full research, which was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and The Gatsby Foundation, is set to be published today in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Image courtesy of Szczel (Flickr).

You really can 3D print anything: Ford’s edible chocolate car

For the first time a car that you can eat rather than drive has been made. Technically it is only one inch long but it’s still possible to eat the 3D printed chocolate Mustang that manufacturer Ford has created.

Ford teamed up with 3D Systems’ Sugar Lab from Los Angles, US, to produce the tiny treat from a full scale CAD version of the company’s newest car.

It may be a rather niche area, which undoubtedly will not be highly competitive, but after printing the chocolate models the partnership proudly stated that it was the world’s first 3D-printed car that can be eaten.

In terms of 3D printing food the chocolate car isn’t a revolutionary step forward but it does show the flexibility which is possible when printing food. The ability to print specific shapes will give food manufacturers with distinctive brands the option of being able to produce their products with ease, rather than having to use complex moulds.

Liz von Hasseln, the creative director at 3D Systems/The Sugar Lab who produced the edible model said it was a challenge to take it from the full CAD version of the car to a small piece of chocolate.

Explaining the printing process she says: “The printer uses an inkjet print head to very precisely paint water onto a dry sugar sub-strain where the model exists at the cross section, and then it spreads more sugar.

“It paints more water onto the sugar and the water recrystalises the sugar and allows it to harden.”

Once it has had time to harden the group then take out the entire production and clear away the excess sugar to reveal the model.

The company Sugar Lab company was created after Liz, together with her husband Kyle, 3D printed a birthday cake for a friend because they didn’t have an oven.

The print of the edible Mustang was made as a one-time special but Ford has said it is considering licensing the application in case it wanted to manufacture Mustang sweets in the future.

Ford already 3D print a large amount of parts and prototypes but the willingness of large companies to consider using 3D printing for food purposes does show some hope for the future of food manufacturing using the techniques.

Ford supervisor of 3D printing, Paul Susalla, said: “3D printing is one of the hottest buzzwords in the news today and it’s great to see more consumers learning about the technology and its applications.

“We wanted to create something fun to show that while 3D printing made these edible Mustangs, manufacturing-level 3D printing was used in the development of Ford’s all-new sports car.”

Video still courtesy of Ford.