The debate rages on about cloning food and the repercussions the process has on the food industry. You may not realize it, but gardeners have been cloning potatoes for years. Every time you and your family enjoy a fluffy baked potato at dinner or demand real mashed potatoes under your gravy, you bite into a cloned food. The true seeds produced by a potato plant are often sterile or grow into plants that do not produce tubers. Potato cloning solves the reproductive problem.
1. What Is Potato Cloning?
The definition of cloning is straightforward: Sections of a living organism are used to create an identical, or twin, organism. While this may sound like something out of a late-night horror film, anyone who grows potatoes does the same thing. A section of an existing potato is planted to create more potatoes. There are thousands of acres planted with small sections of potatoes each year. At the end of the growing season, the fields are turned. The newly grown potato clones are gathered, processed and shipped off to your favorite fast-food restaurant as french fries, potato wedges or other menu items.
2. Potato Sections
If you look closely at a potato, there are bumps and crevices all over the surface. Inside the crevices are tiny buds that can grow into a potato plant. These are referred to as the eyes of the potato. Without the eyes, the potato cannot grow a plant that produces tubers. There is a whole science behind the principles of potato cloning. To simplify a complicated process, lab technicians test potatoes for disease and rot resistance, uniformity in production and other technical issues. Only the best potatoes are certified as good seed potatoes.
3. Seed Potatoes
Most garden centers sell whole certified seed potatoes by the pound. You cut the potatoes into small sections -- each with an eye and about 2 ounces of potato flesh so the plant sprouts and has enough nutrients to last until roots develop. Even though you can plant the whole potato, the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center states that the dominant eye suppresses growth in the other eyes on the potato. When you cut the potato into several sections, each eye can develop into a plant that sets tubers.
4. Cloning Potatoes
Grocery store potatoes are usually treated with a growth inhibitor that suppresses sprouting. Use only certified seed potatoes in the garden. Certified seed potatoes are less susceptible to diseases and pests than noncertified potatoes. Use a sharp knife when you cut the seed potatoes because a flat surface on the potato is less susceptible to disease and rot. Your best yields come from seed potato sections that have cured two weeks before planting. The seed potato develops a callus that prevents the exposed flesh from rotting. Set the seed potatoes in a warm area the day before planting so the potatoes are warmer than the soil. A cold seed potato section pulls moisture from warm soil and may rot as a result.
- North Dakota State University Horticulture Department: Potato Propagation
- Vegetable Growers News: Cloned Food Products? We Just Call Them Potatoes
- University of Wisconsin BioWeb: Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
- Oregon State University Crop and Soil Science: Priniciples of Potato Production
- University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center: Cutting Whole Tubers for Planting
- Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images