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Biotech Crops Move Ahead

Biotech Crops Move Ahead
Two new crops move forward at USDA - an enhanced potato variety and a low-lignin alfalfa variety.

The march of new technology continues in the world of crop biotech with news that USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has deregulated two new crops - a biotech low-lignin alfalfa variety developed by Forage Genetics International and Monsanto; and biotech potato varieties developed by J.R. Simplot Company.

Innate potatoes - left - don't brown much after they're cut.

The new alfalfa will go by the name HarvXtra alfalfa, which contains the biotech-derived trait developed to improve alfalfa quality compared to commercially available alfalfa harvested at the same growth stage. This development is achieved by reducing the amount of lignin in the plant, while maintaining the crop's agronomic characteristics, according to a release from Forage Genetics International, the crop's developer.

Matt Fanta, president, FGI, notes that the new alfalfa "brings something truly unique to the industry. While past and current efforts to improve the quality of alfalfa exist, this trait technology is the only advancement in alfalfa that truly moves the bar.

The new alfalfa was developed through a strategic partnership between FGI, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in conjunction with Monsanto Company. Scientists from these institutions explored alternative methods to improve the quality of alfalfa. The group determined a strategy using biotechnology techniques to modify lignin content and composition in alfalfa would provide the greatest benefit.

"HarvXtra alfalfa is the first biotech alfalfa trait for forage quality and we are very pleased to partner with FGI as part of the [crop's] development," says John Riley, specialty crop product manager, Monsanto. Riley adds that the new alfalfa will be sold in a trait stack with Genuity Roundup Ready alfalfa.

HarvXtra alfalfa is not currently available for sale and is still pending regulatory approvals in key export markets with functioning regulatory systems. Learn more about the new trait and its features by visiting

New potato offers benefits

The new potato trait will be called Innate which can be cut open and won't discolor over time because it has reduced sugars. The potatoes also have a reduced level of asparagine, which decreases the potential for the formation of acrylamides during cooking; this compound has been linked to cancers and is included on a California risk of food products.

Innate potatoes, when sold in California, will help producers meet the challenge of acrylamide. The genetic trick Innate potatoes use to prevent expression of black spot bruise is called RNA interference. This is a highly targeted approach to a problem that allows plant breeders to meet specific market needs.

J.R. Simplot is known for being a supplier of fries to McDonald's and there has been some backlash over the deregulation of this potato to the market. However, the company is moving ahead with the tech.

Learn more about the new potatoes by visiting Simplot Plant Sciences.

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