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Lunchtime is over for the Colorado potato beetle

Chemicals in the leaves of potato plants, produced naturally by the plant, may hold the key to a new way to control Colorado potato beetles — a major pest for potato growers.

Dr. Helen Tai, AAFC

Dr. Helen Tai, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research scientist, has turned to the leaves growing on wild potato relatives, leaves that beetles won’t eat, as a new approach to keep the pest away.

Many plants in the potato family contain natural defence chemicals that protect plants against insects and pathogens. Using mass spectrometry and other sophisticated tools, Tai was able to identify what it is in the wild potato plant leaves that make the beetle avoid them.

Potato breeders at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre used cross breeding of a wild relative with common popular potato varieties to develop a potato with built in beetle resistance. Not all of the potatoes from the cross carry the resistance, but the profile that Tai discovered identifies which ones do.

“Breeding new potato varieties resistant to beetle feeding, now in the advanced stages, opens the way to a new era where potato growers could reduce pesticide spray applications for insect control,” says Tai.

Colorado potato beetles are already showing a resistance to the popular pesticides used by potato growers adding to the need for new solutions. Tai sees use of beetle resistant varieties together with integrated pest management methods as an alternative approach to mitigate pesticide resistance. These resistant potato varieties can provide growers with an option to avoid serious crop losses.

Two of these new resistant potatoes are already in the breeding program and available to industry to trial.

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