Potatoes in Great Britain
What do fish and chips, crisps, and bangers and mash have in common? They’re all staples of traditional British cuisine that feature the humble potato. English explorer Sir Francis Drake discovered potatoes during his first, and the world’s second-ever, circumnavigation of the world in the late 16th century in Latin America. He brought them back to England and they have been a mainstay in British diets ever since.
Potatoes are farmer Ian Spinks most valuable crop, but they are also the riskiest to grow. “Seventy-five percent of a potato is water, so you’re essentially trying to store a little bag of water with skin around it.” The biggest problem is attack from potato blight, he says. “You feel disappointed when you lose crops because you worked so hard to get them to a certain point.” Ian isn’t alone; potato blight has plagued British farmers for generations, triggering the infamous Irish potato famine in the 1840s.
Plant scientist Jonathan Jones is using plant biotechnology to combat crop losses caused by potato blight. In particular, his team is developing a potato with built-in resistance to blight. “By identifying and combining a resistance gene for blight, farmers will be able to plant varieties of potatoes that are less likely to be wiped out by the disease.” He says the benefits could be huge in England and beyond. “Worldwide the potato late blight costs about $3.5 billion a year with very substantial losses equally in both developing and developed countries.”