Plants produce less potatoes when it’s warmer: researchers find out why

Potato plants (Solanum tuberosum) are usually very sensitive to temperature: when it is too hot, a small number of tubers form or not at all. A group of biochemists from the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) has understood why and now hopes that this discovery will be useful to make potato crops more efficient, especially in relation to temperature.

In the study published in Current Biology, it is reported that when the temperature increases a small RNA (a small molecule of ribonucleic acid) triggers the blockage of tuber formation. This is due to the fact that at higher temperatures the plant tries to form more green shoots and leaves and fewer tubers.

Researchers have successfully “shut down” this molecule so that the plants are more resistant to high temperatures and continue to grow tubers. This means that higher yields can be achieved even if temperatures are higher than those considered optimal for potato plants (i.e. 21°C during the day and 18°C at night).

During the experiments, researchers were able to produce good quality tubers even at temperatures of over 29° during the day and 27° at night.

Uwe Sonnewald, a professor of biochemistry at the FAU, who is involved in the study, says: “Our results give us the means to be able to continue growing potatoes in the future at increasing temperatures,” which suggests that even better results can be achieved.