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Crop and Food Lincoln researching superior potatoes with China

21 April 2008

From Diane Keenan who is with the Mayor's delegation in China

Scientists from Crop and Food Lincoln are cooperating with research organisations in Christchurch’s Friendship city of Wuhan, China, to develop potatoes with superior qualities including resistance to cold-induced sweetening.

Professor Tony Conner, a senior scientist at Crop and Food, Lincoln, was in China this week to meet the Wuhan scientists he is working with on the international potato genome sequencing project and to speak at the China-New Zealand Science to Market conference in Beijing.

Crop and Food has strengthened its ties with Huazhong Agricultural University since Christchurch signed the Friendship City Agreement two years ago. Former Chief Executive Paul Tocker was part of the Mayoral delegation in 2006. Canterbury Development Corporation’s Eugene Feng has worked closely since then with Crop and Food to cement its Memorandum of Understanding with the Wuhan research facility.

Professor Conner said there had been a number of scientific exchanges between the two organisations. Three Crop and Food scientists visited Wuhan in September 2006 which was followed by a delegation from Wuhan to Christchurch. He, with fellow Lincoln scientist, Jeanne Jacobs visited in April the following year through a grant from the Royal Society

“We had a lot of interaction which included giving lectures to students, looking in depth at the potato programme they are carrying out and editing their scientific papers,” Professor Conner said.

Wuhan scientists were back in New Zealand again last month to look at food and ornamental research at Crop and Food’s Lincoln and Massey campuses.

“Such is our degree of cooperation and the alignment of our programmes on potato research, the talk I gave at the Beijing conference could have been given by any one of the Wuhan scientists,” he said.

New Zealand and China are part of the International Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium. China is mapping the gene sequence of two of the 12 chromosomes and Crop and Food is mapping one. The other countries involved include Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, Australia, Denmark, Turkey and Poland.

The scientists are working at breeding potato cultivars with disease resistance and also desirable processing traits. Professor Conner said that when potatoes are stored at a low temperature after harvest their starch breaks down to sugar, which results in them browning when cooked. Crop and Food has the elite breeding material with the trait which resists this sugar break down, he said.

Professor Conner is an advocate of international cooperation on scientific research. “The research facilities they have in Wuhan are excellent. We have much to gain from this relationship which is based on trust and mutual respect,” he said.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says the Crop and Food relationship is one of 22 officially recognised partnerships that Canterbury businesses and educational organisations have in Wuhan.  “With the signing of the historic free trade agreement in China the level of cooperation on scientific projects will only increase,” he says.

“We are fortunate that as a city we have been a pioneer in building relationships with China and this is now paying dividends and allowing our business, science and education sectors to punch above their weight in the massive Chinese market.”


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