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Hot potato finding: scientists map genetic code

For the very first time, scientists have mapped the genetic code of the humble spud.
German potatoes on June 21, 2011. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In a discovery that could boost the world's food security, an international team of researchers has decoded the genome of the potato.

The breakthrough was made in Scotland, at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, and the work marks the very first time a major crop in the United Kingdom has been fully sequenced.

Scientists say the genome blueprint should make it possible to develop more nutritious varieties of potato more quickly.

The Belfast Telegraph describes a genome as a chemical “instruction book” that describes how an organism's genes should be put together.

Each individual genes controls different aspects of how the organism will grow, and therefore small changes will give rise to different varieties.

The paper says that new varieties of potato will help sure up food security in the future thanks to improved yield, quality and resistance to pests and diseases.

But the research is a long way from being finished, and analyzing the genetic sequence of the plant will take several more years.

According to the BBC, it currently takes scientists more than 10 years to breed an improved variety of potato.

With an annual yield worldwide of 330 million tonnes, potatoes are the world's fourth-largest crop.