What is currently on top of your research agenda?
My main focus is research and development of potato, with the aim of introducing novel traits improving the quality based on various aspects. Traits like tailored starch qualities for food and industrial applications, decreased antinutritional substances in tubers as well as fine tuning potato protein to yield a food grade quality after extraction from a starch production side stream, are for the moment prioritised tasks. For the last five years I have used genome editing as a tool in my research, which we have developed to be a very efficient method for potato, both for research and breeding.
Tell us about your latest publication?
It’s a publication in Frontiers in Plant Science and named “Reduced Enzymatic Browning in Potato Tubers by Specific Editing of a Polyphenol Oxidase Gene via Ribonucleoprotein Complexes Delivery of the CRISPR/Cas9 System”. The goal of this project is to develop a potato with less bruising, i.e. enzymatic browning, which affects the colour, taste, nutritional quality and texture of the potato. We have used genome editing to knockout one polyphenole oxidase (PPO), which has resulted in up to 75% reduction in enzymatic browning in tubers. The research is done in collaboration with an Argentinian research group located at INTA (National Institute of Agricultural Technology), where a field trial is currently being planned for.
What led you into your particular field of research?
A general interest in research and development of plants led me more than twenty years ago, directly after my basic education, to a position within the breeding and plant biotechnology industry. There, I learned a lot about potato and gene technology. For the last ten years, I have been working as a researcher at SLU in Alnarp, and potato research and development still fascinates me every day.
What are the implications of your research for the society?
The potato traits we are working with would, if marketed as new varieties, have a positive impact on our health and/or lead to a sustainable agriculture or industrial production. Two examples; We have developed potato lines with resistant starch and low glycemic index (GI), which would be good for our health if consumed. We have also developed potato that has a starch with improved storage stability within a product. Today, a low storage stability is overcome by chemical modification of starch. Our new potato lines have a natural storage stability in products and thousands of tonnes of chemicals can be saved every year.
Finally, let´s say you got unlimited research funds; where would your research be five years from now?
I would like to continue to develop novel traits in potato, there is so much we can do to make the potato even more sustainable and healthier than it already is. And, furthermore, to use the gained knowledge to develop new traits also in other crops. I would additionally like to put a large effort into increasing our technology portfolio with new breeding techniques. High on the wish list is a method that not only introduces mutations through inserts or deletions (indels), but that with high efficiency and specificity can be used for precise base edits.
foto: Viktor Wrange