Better potatoes are top-of-mind for this researcher
Dave Douches is director of Michigan State University Potato Breeding and Genetics Program
Breeding new potato varieties that help reduce the use of pesticides, support more sustainable farming practices and contain higher nutritional value is undoubtedly high on Dave Douches’ ‘to-do’ list.
“I consider myself a plant breeder, and I think I get the most satisfaction when I can see my breeding efforts lead to a variety that can be successful in the marketplace,” said Douches, director of Michigan State University Potato Breeding and Genetics Program. “If the varieties are more successful, somebody is benefitting.
“My job is to take basic research and shepherd it through the process of becoming a successful variety. The work we’re doing will lead to better potatoes that hopefully have a positive impact and a pipeline that will likely deliver for decades to come.”
Potatoes are a food staple for much of the world and creating resilient, sustainable varieties is paramount to global food security. Among many ongoing projects, Douches was awarded a $5.8 million grant in 2015 to improve potato production in Bangladesh and Indonesia by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“We’re trying to create more disease resistant potatoes for those countries where they don’t have the means to continue to manage diseases, as well as we do,” he said.
He also works to make sure Michigan’s potato farmers are planting varieties that provide high yields to maximize the economic value of the crop to the state.
Douches and his research team have developed varieties resistant to many of the major diseases and pests in Michigan where there are substantial environmental and biological stresses.
“Local farmers have been hit quite hard over the years by these issues, so I feel it’s our job to develop these varieties and try to incorporate as much disease, insect and virus resistance in the potatoes that we can,” he said.
Mechanisms for solving Michigan’s potato industry challenges also translate well to protecting global food security across, including developing nations.
“A lot of the countries we work with tend to be in the subtropical regions and that just puts more stresses on the crop, so I think they have it much more difficult than Michigan does in terms of managing their crop,” he said.
In addition to breeding potatoes to produce higher yields and more resilient varieties, Douches is looking to improve nutritional value. His research indicates that the purple potato variety he recently developed named Blackberry provides antioxidant content equivalent to that of blueberries.
“Another area we are trying to work toward is producing higher protein content in potatoes,” he said. “People don’t realize that one potato has one average about 2% of protein. I believe we should be able to at least double that, and it could serve as a very high-quality protein source.”
This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 517-355-0123.