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University of Idaho eyes partnering with Peru potato centre

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MOSCOW, Idaho — University of Idaho officials are negotiating a deal with the International Potato Center in Peru, in hopes of getting access to the centre’s vast potato gene bank.

More than 4,000 potato varieties that include potatoes cultivated in the Andes thousands of years ago could help solve modern day problems facing potato growers, school officials said.

“If you’re looking for new sources of genes to solve potato problems like late blight, or potato cyst nematode, you name it that is the most likely place you’re going to find those resources,” plant science professor Mike Thornton told the Capital Press (http://bit.ly/2aZHQtf ).

Late blight caused the Irish potato famine, and remains the No. 1 pathogen for potatoes around the world. In Idaho, the discovery of the pale cyst nematode in 2006 was the first detection in the United States of the microscopic pest that can reduce crop production by 80 per cent.

Getting access to the potato gene bank at the centre in Lima would also boost the school’s potato-breeding efforts, Thornton said.

As part of the deal with the centre in Lima, school officials would share scientific expertise.

“I think we’ve got as good of a scientific group as anywhere in the world, so I think we can help them,” he said.

Discussions started last year after two school officials visited the centre on a trade mission facilitated by Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. It’s not clear when an agreement might be signed.

Joe Kuhl, an associate professor specializing in biotechnology, said he hopes to get a special permit to bring Peruvian potatoes to Idaho to isolate a genetic marker for resistance to pale cyst nematode.

That could help future breeding efforts at the school and offer insights the centre isn’t equipped to handle, he said.

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