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VIPO 22 goes Peruvian with bitter potatoes

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

I am very proud and grateful I was given this *golden* opportunity by Villum Fonden to continue pursuing my dream to research and unleash the potential of Andean flora and Natural History Collections, this time #bitterpotatoes.

Taken from: Unravelling genetic origins from the potato to cinchona.© Cat O'Neil for Wellcome Collection.

What's the rationale behind this study?

The crop diversity of our food systems has diminished in the wake of globalism. Baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, fries, chips, etc., are all based on a single crop species, Solanum tuberosum, which is cultivated worldwide.

Other potato species have been domesticated for food but are cultivated only in South America, for example, the bitter potato species: S. ajanhuiri, S. juzepczukii, and S. curtilobum. These species possess desirable traits such as resistance to drought and frost and early maturity.

Taken from Recetas de Bolivia*

However, their bitterness and toxicity prevent them from being widely consumed, even when they are mitigated by Indigenous traditional techniques, consisting of freezing and drying processes that produce chuño.

Why potatoes?

A short and honest answer would be, "I'm Peruvian".

But potatoes are one of the most consumed staple food in the world.

Additionally, potatoes are grown in regions where malnutrition and poverty are prevalent.

Therefore, we must diversify the consumption of the common potato (Solanum tuberosum) so that it also includes its relatives, such as bitter potatoes. This will allow small-holder families to achieve food security and escape poverty.

Taken from Huacho** for the Potato National Day in Peru (30th of May).

Why *old* potatoes?

The current bitter potato material can be genetically contaminated from being bred with other and foreign varieties; therefore, historical herbaria samples will give us access to the original genetic material. I will sample from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

What is the project about?

In my project, I will resolve the complex trajectory of where their bitterness is genetically coded and how their bitterness level has been shaped by indigenous selection processes over time.

To achieve this, I will compare and contrast Kew’s unique historical bitter potato collections (~80 years old), as well as fresh material from seed banks in International Potato Center.

These samples will be analysed with genomic and chemical techniques, enabling me to explore the genetics behind their environmental resilience and reveal their change in diversity over time. I will also apply ecological modelling analyses to identify the best environmental conditions to grow bitter potatoes in the present and the following decades, as climate conditions challenge existing crops.

As a result of this project, I will demonstrate that these overlooked plant species represent a solution to food security.

Also, what is VIPO?

It is a special call earmarked for women in research. In their own words, they said: "to support researchers at the stage in the university research career path when large numbers of women are leaving science and technology at the Danish universities."

Check out the call and my other colleagues' projects awarded here.




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