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Scottish boffins have decoded the full genome for the humble potato, opening the door for a new world of Scottish cuisine.

The discovery could slash the time taken to breed new types of potato, if they can just get genetically modified crop-planting made legal. However, the information obtained could also be used to aid selective breeding, which would not fall foul of the ban on GM crops.

Professor Iain Gordon, chief executive of The James Hutton Institute, said: "This achievement is an exciting day for us and the result of many years of hard work by our team in Dundee.

"Potato is one of the top staple foods in the world and the most important non-grain crop for human consumption, particularly in developing countries, which now account for more than half of the global harvest."

Scientists from Imperial College London, the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee took around eight years to crack the full genome. They were helped by researchers in 14 countries. The solution should almost halve the current time frame of 10 to 12 years required to breed new varieties.

There are potentially ways to use the genome information without falling foul of the European-wide ban on growing GM crops.

The rest of the world is not so picky – in the US, genetically modified seeds that are resistant to herbicides dominate the market. Altogether 94 per cent of soybeans and 65 per cent of corn in the US are grown from GM seed.

The difficulty with spud genes is that they inherit four sets of genomes, two from each parent, rather than just one from each parent as people do.

The Potato Council hopes the discovery will also increase interest in the World Potato Congress, which takes place between 27 and 30 May 2012.

Click here for the Hutton Institute statement, or you can visit the Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium here. ®

Bootnote

Just in case you were wondering about the headline, it's rhyming slang. Sweaty sock = jock.

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