A study has unveiled the origins and adaptation of the modern European
potato using plants that were collected 350 years ago, including those from
by Charles Darwin's 1834 voyage on HMS Beagle. The new genetic analysis led
by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in
Germany settles the debate about the origins of the European potato. While
Russian scholars thought that the European potato came from Chile, English
researchers believed it has Andean origins. Results of the new study reveal
that the European potato is in fact rooted in both regions of South America.
The researchers extracted DNA from 88 samples that included landraces,
modern cultivars, and historical specimens kept in herbaria. The oldest
sample from 1660, which was found in the Sloane herbarium at London's
Natural History Museum. The study shows that European potatoes collected
during the period 1650-1750 were closely related to Andean landraces. After
their introduction to Europe, these potatoes mixed with Chilean genotypes.
The first potatoes collected by Europeans came from the equatorial Andes in
the 16th century, adapted to short days. Tubers from these potatoes only
developed in late autumn as the days shortened, mimicking the day length and
temperature cues of their original habitat. The research tracks the
emergence of this adaptation in Europe and traces it to the 19th century,
coinciding with an influx of Chilean potatoes and the transformation in the
cultivation of potatoes in Europe.