ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
November 4, 1998
Linda McGraw, (309) 681-6530, firstname.lastname@example.org
What do national parks and forests have to do with the French fries future
generations will eat? Maybe more than anyone can imagine today.
South America is the potato's center of origin and its center of genetic
diversity. But geneticist John B. Bamberg at the Agricultural Research
Service has fresh respect for a pair of wild spuds--Solanum jamesii and S.
fendleri--found in state and national parks in the Southwest.
The parkland plants serve as free-living genetic reservoirs. They may harbor
agriculturally valuable traits that might go unnoticed for decades until
needed by crop breeders. And the plants' genetic stock may rise the longer
they can persist. In the wild, they can continue changing genetically in
response to attack by insects, diseases, animals, drought and fire.
The southwestern tubers' genetic change has been confirmed. Analyses by
Bamberg and colleagues show that recent collections of these plants have
genetic fingerprints different from those of samples collected decades
earlier at the same sites. The wild plants grow in Coronado National Forest
in Arizona, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Lincoln National Forest in
New Mexico, and other parks and forests.
Bamberg works at ARS' Plant Introduction Station in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
There, the U.S. Potato Genebank contains nearly 5,000 samples of more than
150 potato species. Plant breeders and biotechnologists can tap into the
Sturgeon Bay treasure chest for genetic traits to improve upon today's
The researchers aim to preserve genetic diversity in two ways: ex situ and
in situ. Ex situ refers to the gene bank's artificial environment; in situ
is where plants grow in nature. A story about in situ wild potatoes, grapes
and onions in the U.S. will appear in the December Agricultural Research
magazine of ARS, the chief scientific arm of the U.S. Department of
Scientific contact: John B. Bamberg, ARS Plant Introduction Station, 4312
Highway 42, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235, phone (920) 743-5406, fax (920)
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