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ScienceShot: Scientists Sequence the Spud

10 July 2011 1:00 pm

Jose E. Torres/International Potato Center

Potatoes are the most important nongrain food crop in the world—and scientists are finally starting to learn a bit more about them. Researchers report online today in Nature that they've completed the first high-quality genome sequencing of the potato, revealing key regions that could help growers breed varieties with better resistance to disease and insect infestations, as well as potentially increase crop yields and potatoes' nutritional value. The potato has about 39,000 protein-coding genes, the team found, slightly less than the soybean and a bit more than corn. The researchers also discovered that the clade asterid—which potatoes belong to along with tomatoes, coffee, and tobacco—likely split off from rosids (grapes, poplar trees, geraniums, etc.) around 89 million years ago. Now pass the sour cream.

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