TRADE AND MARKET I NG Closed potato market in Norway keeps the local potato chain afloat Introducing new varieties Companies can send potential new varieties such as meristem plants or mini tubers to Norway. Researchers at the NIBIO research institute test the material for ring rot and brown rot, bacterial infections and viruses. The varieties are then sent to the Graminor breeding station in Ridabu, where they are tested for their suitability for the special Norwegian climate conditions. In addition to introducing varieties from abroad, Graminor also carries out its own breeding work, say R&D manager Professor Muath Alsheikh and assistant potato researcher Bjarne Kjøs. Graminor is planning to become the leading company in developing new varieties under Norwegian and Scandinavian growing conditions. According to Alsheikh, cultivation work plays an important role in the food safety and availability aspects of the Norwegian potato sector. Graminor is 34 percent government-owned, and the rest is co-owned by Norwegian companies. It employs a total of 34 people, earning some 7.2 million euros in income from royalties and the sale of pre-base seed and seed potatoes. CRISPR-Cas available within three years Since 2006, Graminor has been carrying out commercial crossings with potatoes. ‘The reason is that we need to look for the right varieties that suit our climate. Many varieties from other breeding stations don’t thrive here’, explains Kjøs. The focus we have on breeding is now starting to bear fruit and has resulted in the market introduction of the Hassel and Nansen varieties. Every year, the company starts with 30,000 first-year clones from a hundred parent plants. In its breeding activities, the company focuses on molecular techniques such as markers. ‘As soon as we can make more use of markers again, we can rapidly expand the number of first-year clones’, Alsheikh ‘We expect that within three years, we’ll be able to use CRISPR-Cas to grow potatoes’, say Muath Alsheikh (r) and Bjarne Kjøs. emphasises. ‘It bothers me that it is so hard to find information about markers in scientific publications. The breeding companies don’t share their information and hardly anything is published’, the R&D manager expresses his frustration. ‘That’s why we’re going to collaborate with the CIP International Potato Centre in Peru in the field of introgression breeding work. In this way, we can introduce genes from wild varieties into our own stock. Because it’s very difficult to import varieties into Norway, we take our varieties to Peru to have the crosses carried out there. We have a budget of at least 1 million euros available for this over the coming four years’, Alsheikh tells us. In addition, Graminor is involved in a major Norwegian CRISPR-Cas project to improve the local breeding sector. He says that this project is widely supported by NLR INFORMATION INSTITUTE The Oslo-based NLR Information Institute has 24,000 members and is active throughout the country. There are three hundred advisors, of which eighteen potato specialists. Borghild Glorvigen is one of these. The growers own the independent institute and are also members of the steering committee. They contribute on the basis of crop and number of hectares. There are also municipalities that contribute and financing takes place through chain projects. The total budget of the organisation is 8.5 million euros. the other breeding companies, from both the animal and agronomic sectors. ‘At the moment, it’s not allowed to grow crops that have been developed with this technique. So it’s important that the politicians first recognise its value and that we offer a proof of concept to demonstrate the opportunities’, Alsheikh explains. Norway is a closed country and it would be an interesting pilot to test the effects in a closed environment. ‘We expect that within three years, we’ll be able to use CRISPR-Cas to grow potatoes. It would be a good thing if we could use this technology as it would mean that we could place genes from wild potato varieties very quickly into a relevant type. We’re now going to embark on a proof of concept by making the red-skinned Nansen variety yellow skinned’, Kjøs and Alsheikh believe. 30 Potato World 2020 • number 1 Pagina 29

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