Researchers at the James Hutton Institute and partner organizations are working to understand the mechanisms behind senescent sweetening, a problem responsible for considerable losses of potato crops during storage, particularly in the processing market.
Speaking at the Scottish Society for Crop Research (SSCR) Potato Winter Meeting 2019, Dr. Rob Hancock, based within the Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences group, said: “This AHDB-funded project aims to define the biochemical pathways associated with senescent sweetening.
“We’ll do this by identifying key genes influencing the accumulation of sugars and testing the hypothesis that the issue is linked to tuber ageing and senescence.
“By the end of the project, we aim to provide predictive markers of sweetening onset, and identify candidate genes and markers to accelerate the development of sweetening-resistant varieties.”
Sugar accumulation in stored potato tubers is a problem for the processing industry due to the development of a dark fry colour which is negatively perceived by consumers. Sugars also react with the amino acid asparagine during high-temperature processing (frying, roasting) leading to the formation of the neurotoxin and potential carcinogen acrylamide.
While there is no evidence to suggest that the low levels formed in processed potato products are harmful to health, the industry adopts the precautionary principle and aims to minimise exposure wherever possible.