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I read in a Swedish newspaper advertisement some years ago that genetic intervention had been used to knock out part of the plant immunity defence. This advertisement was paid for by starch producer Lyckeby. The potato's own gene repair introduced variation in the resulting repaired genes, giving the plants a broader defense against various possible threats. What is the background to this story?

The reason given for why common agricultural potato varieties have low variation in their defence genes was genetic bottlenecking post-domestication (other potato strains in the endemic range retain substantial diversity).

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    $\begingroup$ Please provide a reference for this claim. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Jan 16, 2023 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ The rewrite of Maximilian Press goes beyond my intent in regard to how bottlenecking occurred. I see no need to mention it, especially since it likely occurred after domestication when the plant went to Europe. Is there any problem in removing it? $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2023 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidJonsson just fyi, you have to @ tag anyone so that they get notified that you respond. I don't now recall my chain of logic in introducing that edit, I think that I added it to provide more context. I will further edit to try to clarify what you mention in your comment. $\endgroup$ Feb 3, 2023 at 18:28

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This sounds to me like a CRISPR approach used to create S (blight susceptibility) gene knockouts that are then screened for blight resistance, though it's a little hard to know for sure due to the lack of a reference. CRISPR approaches do indeed exploit endogenous repair machinery to introduce mutations at targeted locations.

Here is one paper that follows that rough outline. The take home message is that, yes, you can use this kind of workflow to optimize resistance to particular blights. What it does not seem to address is the part of your question regarding the generation of variation at R genes via this approach, unless you refer to the specific variants introduced by such mutation. While such variants are not "unnatural", you cannot really replace population diversity removed by bottlenecks with CRISPR, they operate at different scales.

A more general review of CRISPR applications in potato is here, which may include more information if I have misunderstood something.

Another application that may be relevant is using CRISPR to modify the genes governing self-incompatibility in potato, which makes it easier to breed potatoes.

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