About our Program and Research


Potato Breeding and Genetics Program






Importance if the Potato

The cultivated potato, Solanum tuberosum (2n=4x=48) is the most important vegetable crop and the fourth most important food crop in the world.  The potato is an important food for the fresh market and it is also the raw material for the french fry, chipping, and starch processing industries.  The Michigan potato industry has had a variable history but its survival as one of the major potato producing states in the U.S. can be attributed to its ability to adjust to shifting market trends.  At the turn of the century the entire Michigan potato crop was marketed fresh and seed.  Today, the Michigan potato industry is dominated by the chip processing sector that accounts for about 80% of the approximately 45,000 acres in production.  The Michigan potato industry ranks as the largest northern supplier of potatoes to the chipping industry.  The 2020 Michigan potato harvest had a farmgate value of approximately $200 million that increases to well over a billion dollars after marketing. 

New varieties are central to the health and growth of the Michigan potato industry.  With the breeding program we continue to address market and production limiting traits.  The breeding goals at MSU are based on current and future needs of the Michigan potato industry.  Traits of importance include yield potential, disease resistance (scab, late blight, early die, and PVY), insect (Colorado potato beetle) resistance, chipping (out-of-the-field, storage, and extended cold storage) and cooking quality, bruise resistance, storability, along with shape, internal quality, and appearance. If these goals can be met, we will be able to reduce production input costs, keep potato production profitable as well as reduce the reliance on chemical inputs such as insecticides, fungicides and sprout inhibitors, and improve overall agronomic performance through new potato varieties.

At Michigan State University, we have been dedicated to developing improved potato varieties for the chip-processing and tablestock markets since 1988.  The program is one of four integrated breeding programs in the North Central region supported through the USDA/NIFA Potato Special Grant.  At MSU, we conduct a comprehensive multi-disciplinary program for potato breeding and variety development that incorporates plant pathology, entomology, biotechnology and genomics to meet Michigan’s needs.  Our program integrates traditional and biotechnological approaches to breed for disease and insect resistance that is positioned to respond to scientific and technology opportunities that emerge.  We are also developing more efficient methods to breed improved potato varieties at the tetraploid and diploid level.

In Michigan, the primary market requires that we focus on developing high yielding round white potatoes with excellent chip-processing from the field and/or storage.  In addition, there is also a need for table varieties (russet, red, yellow, and round white).  We conduct variety trials of advanced selections and field experiments at MSU research locations (Montcalm Research Center, Lake City Research Center, Clarksville Research Center, and MSU Agronomy Farm).  We also ship seed to other states and Canadian provinces for variety trials, and we cooperate with the Michigan potato industry commission on grower trials throughout Michigan.  This testing is crucial in determining the commercial potential of the lines. Through conventional crosses in the greenhouse, we develop new genetic combinations in the breeding program, and also screen and identify exotic germplasm that will enhance the varietal breeding efforts.  With each cycle of crossing and selection we are seeing directed improvement towards improved varieties (e.g. combining chip-processing, scab resistance, PVY resistance, late blight resistance and higher specific gravity).  We continue to see the increase in scab, late blight and PVY resistance in the breeding material and selections. We need to continue to combine these traits in long-term storage chip-processing lines. It has been 11 years since we started the SolCAP project and we are benefiting from the SolCAP SNP array DNA marker technology as we can now query 35,000 SNPs (compared to 8,303 SNPs in initial array).  This SolCAP translational genomics project has finally giving us the opportunity to link genetic markers to important traits (reducing sugars, starch, scab resistance, etc.) in the cultivated potato lines and then breed them into elite germplasm.  The SNPs also allow us to accurately fingerprint the varieties (DNA fingerprinting database). In addition, our program has been utilizing genetic engineering as a tool to introduce new genes to improve varieties and advanced germplasm for traits such as insect resistance, late blight and PVY resistance, lower reducing sugar, nitrogen use efficiency and drought.  In 2021, we plan to test potatoes with late blight resistance, drought tolerance, invertase silencing and gene editing for PPO and self-compatibility.  Furthermore, PotatoesUSA is supporting national early generation trials called the National Chip Processing Trial (NCPT) which will feed lines into the SNAC (SFA) trials and also Fast Track lines into commercial testing (NexGen testing).  The PotatoesUSA Fast Track program invests in larger-scale seed increase for early generation promising chip-processing lines for commercial scale evaluation by growers and processors. This has led to the release of Saginaw Chipper (MSR061-1), Manistee (MSL292-A), Huron Chipper (MSW485-2), Mackinaw (MSX540-4), and Petoskey (MSV030-4). The next clones for commercialization are MSZ242-13 and MSW474-1. In the table markets, Blackberry and MSV093-1Y are showing promise.  We also have funding to develop genome editing technologies that may not be classified as regulated through a USDA/BRAG grant.  This technology can be used to introduce lower sugars, bruising and asparagine as well a number of other traits in the future.  We also have a USDA/AFRI diploid breeding grant to develop some foundational diploid breeding germplasm.  In 2015, we were awarded the USAID grant to generate late blight resistance potatoes for Bangladesh and Indonesia.  This Feed the Future project brings us into cutting edge GM work with Simplot and the International Potato Center (CIP).  Lastly, we have NSF-funded grants to better understand the potato genome and study wound-healing in potato.  We feel that these in-house capacities (both conventional and biotechnological) put us in a unique position to respond to and focus on the most promising directions for variety development and effectively integrate advanced technologies with the breeding of improved chip-processing and tablestock potatoes.

Over the years, key infrastructure changes have been established for the breeding program to make sound assessments of the breeding selections moving through the program.  In 2016, we constructed a greenhouse to expand our breeding and certified minituber seed production.  This greenhouse is located at the MSU Agronomy Farm facility on south campus. Also in 2016, we began to upgrade the potato washing and grading line. which was completed with funding from MPIC and AgBioResearch.  Variable speed control drives, a new lift; custom built barrel washer; grading table; and Kerian speed sizer are all part of the set up as of 2019. Incorporation of bar-coding and scales synchronized to computer hot keys, have improved the speed, accuracy and efficiency of the grading process.

MSU Potato Program Breeding Objectives

  1. Utilize conventional breeding techniques to generate seedlings for varietal selection and development and also to introgress exotic Solanum germplasm for the purposes of variety development.
  2. Integrate transformation techniques into the breeding program to introduce genes of economic importance. 
  3. Conduct screening procedures to evaluate early generation breeding material and advanced selections for chip-processing, resistance to Colorado potato beetle and diseases such as late blight (foliage and tuber) and scab.
  4. Study the genetics of key traits targeted for potato improvement.
  5. Develop a diploid breeding approach based upon introgressing self-compatibility so that inbred line development could be achieved.
  6. Conduct replicated trials that are designed to evaluate the marketable maturity and adaptability of advanced selections and new releases (from Michigan and other states) with emphasis upon yield, chip-processing, general appearance, dry matter, and blackspot bruise resistance, external and internal defects that affect specific markets.
  7. Continue to name, commercially release, and intellectually protect new potato varieties that are of value to the potato industry.

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