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, 95 (2), 252-7

DNA From Herbarium Specimens Settles a Controversy About Origins of the European Potato


DNA From Herbarium Specimens Settles a Controversy About Origins of the European Potato

Mercedes Ames et al. Am J Bot.


Landrace potato cultivars are native to two areas in South America: the high Andes from eastern Venezuela to northern Argentina and the lowlands of south-central Chile. Potato first appeared outside of South America in Europe in 1567 and rapidly diffused worldwide. Two competing hypotheses suggested the origin of the "European" potato from the Andes or from lowland Chile, but the Andean origin has been widely accepted over the last 60 years. All modern potato cultivars predominantly have Chilean germplasm, explained as originating from breeding with Chilean landraces subsequent to the late blight epidemics beginning in 1845 in the UK. The Andean origin has been questioned recently through examination of landraces in India and the Canary Islands, but this evidence is inferential. Through a plastid DNA deletion marker from historical herbarium specimens, we report that the Andean potato predominated in the 1700s, but the Chilean potato was introduced into Europe as early as 1811 and became predominant long before the late blight epidemics in the UK. Our results provide the first direct evidence of these events and change the history of introduction of the European potato. They shed new light on the value of past breeding efforts to recreate the European potato from Andean forms and highlight the value of herbarium specimens in investigating origins of crop plants.

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