'Edinburgh Potato' used in fight against potato blight

By Euan McIlwraith

Image caption,
Some potato varieties are said to be under threat

A hybrid potato that is resistant to the crop-destroying fungus known as blight is being trailed as a potential saviour of some of the country's best-known varieties of spud.

The so-called "Edinburgh Potato" mixes domestic and wild Mexican breeds.

Blight - Phytophthora infestans - led to the Irish famine, leaving thousands dead from starvation in the 1840s.

There are fears it could wipe out family favourites such as King Edwards and Maris Pipers in the coming decades.

Researchers believe the Edinburgh Potato - Solanum x edinense - could be the key.

Blight costs the UK industry an estimated £55m a year.

Image caption,
Potato blight is a major issue for farmers

The disease is constantly evolving, so potato varieties that were previously resistant may not be in years to come.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is a renowned scientific centre for the study of plants and conservation.

RBGE's Max Coleman has been working with other potato experts from research bodies across Scotland on the hybrid project.

He said: "We got blight in August this year and most of the potatoes had to be topped - the topping means the disease doesn't go into the roots and affect the potatoes."

Image caption,
The "Edinburgh Potato" (Solanum x edinense) is seen as a way forward

He told BBC Scotland's Landward of the hybrid crop: "This is perfectly healthy. This is what I like to call the Edinburgh Potato.

"It's called that because it has a history in this garden going back into the 1800s."

Mr Coleman explained: "What we now know is that this potato is actually the product of a cross between the cultivated potato that we all know and a wild Mexican potato.

"The resistance comes from the Mexican parent."

He added: "I think the real potential is what you can do.

"You can go from a very small potato, a bit more breeding, get the potatoes bigger - and you've got a disease resistant and good eating potato."

Taste test by Euan McIlwraith, Landward

It's got a real waxy salady potato sort of taste to it.

OK, it may not be the biggest tattie in the world.

But the genes in this humble potato could be the saviour of the Scottish potato industry. How good is that.

Whether you mash it up and pop it alongside haggis and neeps, or you roast it to go beside some beautiful highland fillet steak, or you chip it, pop it in a bag, and add some delightful North Sea haddock, you know it's hard to imagine a classic Scottish dish that doesn't involve the humble tattie.

You can see this story on Landward on BBC One Scotland on Monday at 19:30, as well as on the iPlayer.

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