Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce to you the new genetically modified kid on the block. He’s called the Innate Potato!
From a agricultural company called Simplot, this new potato boasts the ability to resist bruising and produces lower levels of acrylamide when fried. To those in the business of producing, selling, or cooking potatoes these are very welcome developments.
According to the company’s website:
Combining our extensive experience in agriculture with the latest in biotechnology, the Simplot Plant Sciences team developed Innate™ Technology, an innovative biotechnology platform for improving crops. This new biotechnology process results in tangible improvements in crops that lead to better foods and ultimately, sustainable benefits for the land.
Innate™ makes it possible to enhance a potato plant’s desirable traits without introducing foreign genes into the plant. Innate™ potatoes are less susceptible to black spot from bruising caused by impact and pressure during harvest and storage than conventional potatoes and have lower levels of asparagine and sugars.
Simplot was founded in 1929 by Jack Simplot. Today, it is involved in various areas of agriculture, including seed production, fertilizer manufacturing, and frozen-food processing. In the 1940’s, the company released the first viable frozen potato, thus establishing a pretty long history with the crop. In the 1960’s, the company teamed up with McDonald’s as a seller of its frozen french fries.
Innate’s ability to lower the amount of acrylamide produced when frying potatoes is particularly interesting from a perspective of food safety and human health. Briefly, when many foods, including potatoes, are cooked it causes the so-called “Mailard reaction.” This reaction is basically an interaction of sugars and amino acids. It results in yummy smells, but it also produces acrylamide, which is suspected to be a carcinogen. Now, we don’t have to be too worried about it, because the FDA has found that we are not consuming dangerous levels of it. But it certainly can’t hurt that the Innate potato does not produce acrylamide during cooking.
The other feature of the potatoes, stopping bruising, is a big deal for producers and suppliers. Similar to Arctic Apples, the technique for preventing the bruising was simply to “turn off” the genes that produce it. This means that the percentage of potatoes that are spoiled during transportation and sales will be lower, thus also lowering the amount of potatoes that become unusable and get thrown out. In other words, less food waste. This makes the Innate potatoes particularly good for producing chips.
Also similar to Arctic Apples, the biotech process uses only DNA from potatoes to achieve the results. In field trials, where the new varieties were grown and monitored prior to gaining deregulated status, there were no environmental risks, no harm to other species, and they grew just like other conventional potatoes.
At the beginning of November, the USDA approved the potato for commercial use in the United States. As with most other biotech crops, Simplot has also submitted the potato to the FDA for food safety review. That means the product should start showing up in limited venues next summer. However, the company predicts that only a few thousand acres of the potato will be planted, so we probably won’t see them in our local grocery stores or restaurants in the very near future. In addition, they will have to be grown and kept separate from conventional potatoes, because other international markets have not yet accepted the technology.
Of course, Simplot isn’t done redesigning the potato with even more benefits to consumers and farmers. In fact, Simplot predicts it can develop a potato varitiey that reduces the cost of production by 20% and increases yields. The company is looking ahead to develop potatoes with increased vitamin and antioxidant content, shortened time to harvest, and improvement in the plant’s use of water and fertilizer.
In any case, congratulations to everyone that has worked on the Innate potato for achieving “deregulated” status!