Director of the Nuclear Seed Potato Germplasm Program, Jenny Durrin, has worked with potatoes in a lab and greenhouse for over a decade studying tissue culture, plant virology and nematology. The new Seed Potato Germplasm Laboratory, which opened in November 2021, is a win for Durrin and her colleagues, and for the increase of potato production in the Northwest.

“One of the hallmarks of Jenny’s facility is that she takes germplasm that is being developed and identifies it as having special characteristics and cleans up pathogens, whether it be small viruses or bacteria, and makes something that is the best for the industry. In doing so, she provides a vital source of clean germplasm material for anybody,” Associate Dean for Research and Director of the Idaho Agriculture Experiment Station, Mark McGuire said.

The lab is mainly used for production rather than research, although research is essential to increase production. In the lab, Durrin— along with student workers and a few full-time workers— grows plantlets, which are potato plants grown in a test tube. When the plant fills the tube, they are then replanted into trays and left to grow in a greenhouse. After a few months, the plantlets produce small potatoes, known as “mini-tubers.”

Durrin said she hopes to use the new facility to increase potato seed germplasm production up to three times compared with what they are currently able to produce.

“(The lab) is a critical piece because unlike corn or wheat or whatever that can be stored as potato seed has to be stored as a living organism,” McGuire said. Durrin said another outstanding feature of the program is that it is entirely self-funded through the sale of plantlets both nationally and internationally.

“Jenny and her lab are critical to the potato industry in the Northwest,” McGuire said.

Now that the lab is open to full capacity, Durrin and her team hope to continue potato seed research and production at increasing levels.