Previous Fora / 2011

STORCK, Thorsten 

Global Project Manager, BASF Plant Science Company, Germany

Thorsten Storck

Over the last six years Thorsten Storck has been heading the development of genetically optimized potatoes at BASF Plant Science, BASF’s plant biotechnology arm. The EU approval of the starch potato “Amflora” in 2010 marked a major milestone for the whole green biotechnology sector, being the first approval for commercial cultivation of a genetically modified crop within the EU in more than a decade.  
Before engaging with green biotechnology he worked in the red biotechnology sector for over eight years. Dr. Storck served in leading positions in companies in Heidelberg and in the San Francisco Bay Area at the forefront of developing and applying functional genomics to the discovery and development of new pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Storck received his Ph.D. at the University of Cologne and studied molecular neuroscience in Cologne and Heidelberg. With the first cloning and characterization of a glutamate neurotransmitter transporter he contributed to our understanding of brain function at the molecular level.



17:00-19:00 18 NOVEMBER
THEMATIC SESSION III. Brazil: “Sustainable Food Production”

Precious Spuds – Tapping the Full Potential of Potatoes

With a global production of over 300 million tons potatoes are the third most important food crop. They are a valuable resource for human nutrition and for the production of starch as a renewable raw material. Since potatoes produce by far more food per unit of land and per unit of water than any other major crop, it is likely that their role will further increase along with the challenge to feed the growing world population.
Late blight is the most devastating potato disease. It causes leaves and tubers to rot and is thereby able to destroy entire harvests. Its arrival in Europe in the mid 19th century caused the big Irish famine, which was followed by a massive emigration wave. Still today this disease is estimated to cause damage worth several billion Euros annually. Due to the aggressiveness of the disease, farmers have to apply fungicides up to 15 times per season, accounting for a significant part of the energy use in potato cultivation.
Several wild potato species are fully resistant to late blight. Breeders have been trying for more than 50 years to transfer this resistance to modern varieties. Up to now, however, classical breeding has been unable to deliver a potato variety which combines both, late blight resistance and the agronomic properties required in today’s agricultural practice.
Using plant biotechnology we have introduced two resistance genes of a wild potato into a modern potato variety. The resulting variety Fortuna is fully resistant to late blight while maintaining all the characteristics of its successful mother variety. Pending the EU approval we are hoping to be able to offer this solution to the farmers in the second half of this decade, contributing to increase the sustainability of potato production.
Potato starch is a renewable raw material used in a broad spectrum of technical processes, including the making of paper, textiles, and adhesives. It consists of two components. The highly branched amylopectin is an excellent thickener and binder, while the linear amylose tends to gel and thereby interferes with several processes. A separation of the two components, however, is economically not viable. In our starch potato Amflora the gene responsible for amylose synthesis has been turned down, rendering Amflora to produce pure amylopectin starch. In paper making Amflora starch increases paper strength and supports the reuse of recycled paper, thereby increasing the sustainability of the entire process.
Destined for cultivation in Europe, the potatoes Fortuna and Amflora are helping to bring the discussion on genetically modified crops from a rather theoretical level to a product based one. The EU approval of Amflora in 2010 marked a major milestone for the whole green biotechnology sector, being the first approval for commercial cultivation of a genetically modified crop within the EU in more than a decade.