14 January 2015 Source: National Geographic –

“Innate” is a weird name for a potato. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, innate means native, inborn, or natural, which most potatoes are, but which J.R. Simplot’s officially named Innate potato isn’t quite.

The Innate potato, recently approved for commercial planting by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a genetically engineered potato tweaked to resist bruising and browning. It has also been modified to contain 50 percent to 70 percent less of the amino acid asparagine, which is converted to acrylamide, a possible carcinogen, when potatoes are heated at high temperatures like frying to make French fries. The name Innate was conferred by Simplot to indicate that—despite that fact that the potato is genetically modified—its genome, unlike those of many modified crop plants, contains nothing but plain potato.

Genetically modified (GM) food plants are often transgenic—that is, they contain inserted gene sequences from wildly unrelated organisms, among them bacteria, jellyfish, rats, mice, spiders, and scorpions. The Innate potato, however, was developed using a technique called gene silencing or RNA interference, a natural process used by everybody’s cells to regulate gene expression. Biochemically, this is the equivalent of flipping a switch from ON to OFF—in the case of the Innate potato, shutting down the manufacture of a pair of enzymes: polyphenol oxidase, the causative agent of browning in potatoes, avocados, and apples, and asparagine synthetase, essential for making asparagine, the precursor of acrylamide.

Though it’s not certain that acrylamide is a problem for people, researchers have shown that rats, fed huge amounts of it, develop cancer; and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest agree that, given the choice, the less of it we eat, the better. Bruising and browning, though not a threat health-wise, have other unpleasant effects. First, we don’t like the way brownish potatoes look; and second, they put a sizeable dent in our collective pocketbooks. An estimated 400 million pounds of bruised and brown potatoes are chucked each year at a cost of $90 million to producers, most of which, inevitably, is passed along to consumers (us).

Simplot’s hope is that the Innate potato will be snapped up by the potato processing industry—the people who make French fries and potato chips—which is where about a third of the annual U.S. potato crop ends up. It’s also a good possibility for pre-cut fresh potatoes, which now can only be sold frozen, since ordinary fresh-cut potatoes turn a yucky brown in the bag…