By Echo Martin
The Department of Horticultural Science is excited to welcome Laura Shannon as our newest faculty member, studying potato breeding and genetics. Shannon comes to Minnesota from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she worked in Jeff Endelman’s potato breeding lab. In collaboration with the International Potato Center in Peru, she is working with genotyping data from the Peruvian gene bank, the largest and most diverse set of potatoes in the world to identify the underlying morphology of genes in Peruvian varieties and to more fully describe potato history and the extent of potato diversity.
Because potatoes have four copies of each chromosome (called tetraploidy) and primarily reproduce by making clones, they are actually more genetically complex than corn or even dogs—two other species that Shannon has worked with in her career. “I look forward to uncovering ways in which these differences change the genetic signatures of domestication and crop improvement,” says Shannon. “This in turn will inform their breeding strategies.” Shannon will be using computational genetics—which pairs computational and statistical analysis with genome sequences—to better understand genetic markers and interactions in plants, leading to the development of better varieties.
Most of all, Shannon is excited to work with Minnesota growers and the North Central potato community to rebuild the Minnesota breeding program and develop new varieties that will assist Minnesota growers in facing new environmental and disease challenges.