Discovery: Healthier and Tastier Potato Chips

A team of scientists led by Michigan State University professors Jiming Jiang and David Douches has made a breakthrough discovery regarding cold-stored potatoes and their potential health concerns. They found that preserving potatoes in cold storage leads to a process called cold-induced sweetening (CIS), which converts starches to sugars. This results in darkened fries and chips and generates acrylamide, a carcinogenic compound formed during high-temperature processing. Thus, the researchers aimed to develop potato varieties that are not affected by CIS to reduce the levels of acrylamide generated during the frying of tubers.

Their findings, published in the journal The Plant Cell, have a significant impact on the snack food industry, which is worth billions of dollars in the United States. In Michigan, the potato industry is valued at $240 million annually, making it the nation’s leading producer of potatoes for chips. However, farmers cannot grow the crops year-round, and snack makers need a constant supply of fresh spuds to meet their demands. Therefore, preserving potatoes in cold storage ensures chip and fry producers have what they need.

Although there are techniques to reduce sugars in cold-stored tubers, these can affect the flavor of the final product and add to the cost. The researchers’ focus on the root of the problem means they have developed a method to decrease the levels of acrylamide generated during the frying of tubers stored in cold conditions. This holds promise for the development of potato varieties that could be stored under cold temperatures and lead to healthier and tastier chips and fries.

“We’ve identified the specific gene responsible for CIS and, more importantly, we’ve uncovered the regulatory element that switches it on under cold temperatures,” explained Jiang, an MSU Research Foundation Professor in the departments of Plant Biology and Horticulture.

“By studying how this gene turns on and off, we open up the possibility of developing potatoes that are naturally resistant to CIS and, therefore, will not produce toxic compounds.”

Jiang, a potato researcher for over 20 years, has dedicated his career to solving a pressing issue in the potato industry – minimizing acrylamide in potato chips and fries. He started working on this puzzle at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he and his team published a paper in 2010 identifying a key gene responsible for potato CIS. In 2017, Jiang moved to MSU and continued his research, focusing on pinpointing which elements of that gene could be modified to stop the process of cold-induced sweetening.

Collaborating with researchers across MSU’s campus as well as at other research universities, Jiang’s team used a combination of gene expression analysis, protein identification, and enhancer mapping to pinpoint the regulatory element controlling the CIS gene.

“MSU’s collaborative research environment and facilities, including the world-class potato breeding program led by Dave Douches, were instrumental for this research,” Jiang said. “Our next steps involve using this knowledge to create CIS-resistant potato lines through gene editing or other breeding techniques in Dr. Douches’ greenhouses.”

The head of the MSU Potato Breeding and Genetics Program, Douches implemented Jiang’s gene editing technique to combat CIS.

The head of the MSU Potato Breeding and Genetics Program, Douches implemented Jiang’s gene editing technique to combat CIS.

“All our facilities are on campus so the research work can be done efficiently,” Douches said. “With our collaboration, we were able to produce a finding that paves the way for targeted genetic modification approaches to create cold-resistant potato varieties.”

The research conducted has the potential to bring about positive changes in the quality of snack foods. It could also have implications for other starchy foods that undergo processing, by reducing the formation of acrylamide. Moreover, by developing cold-resistant potatoes, it could become easier to store and transport them, reducing wastage and costs.

The creator of this research, Jiang, is optimistic that the new CIS-resistant potatoes could become commercially available in the near future.

“This discovery represents a significant advancement in our understanding of potato development and its implications for food quality and health,” Jiang said. “It has the potential to affect every single bag of potato chips around the world.”

This news is a creative derivative product from articles published in famous peer-reviewed journals and Govt reports:

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2. Bhaskar, P. B., Wu, L., Busse, J. S., Whitty, B. R., Hamernik, A. J., Jansky, S. H., … & Jiang, J. (2010). Suppression of the vacuolar invertase gene prevents cold-induced sweetening in potato. Plant physiology, 154(2), 939-948.
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