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Feds back Atlantic potato research network

A dozen schools and agencies and 32 scientists are to chip in on a research network devoted to new markets for Atlantic Canada’s potato industry.

The federal government on Wednesday pledged $5.3 million over three years for the BioPotato Network, a new project to focus on value-added uses, new health and pharmaceutical products, dietary properties, potato-based plastics and insect control.

“This project will bring together some of the best and the brightest minds from governments, academia and industry to harness the full potential of the potato in terms of our economy, health and environment,” Mike Allen, a Conservative MP from western New Brunswick, said in the government’s announcement Wednesday.

The BioPotato Network’s partners are to include Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Potato Research Centres (Fredericton, Guelph and Lethbridge), BioAtlantech, the P.E.I. Food Technology Centre, McMaster University, the University of Guelph, Dalhousie University, the University of Toronto, the University of P.E.I., the University of New Brunswick, Holland College, the Potato Innovation Network Pin2020 and the National Research Council’s Charlottetown-based Institute for Nutrisciences and Health.

Projects within the new network’s areas of research are expected to include:

  • finding extracts from potatoes for use in functional food and nutraceutical products, then developing new processing methods and other ways to commercialize those extracts;
  • developing new potato varieties that provide consumers with greater control over their diets, such as varieties with lower glycemic levels that would allow diabetics to eat potatoes without the fear of a rapid elevation of their blood sugar levels;
  • finding new ways to use starches and other compounds from potatoes as additives in processed foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals;
  • improving the potato starch-based polymers and blends now used in bioplastics — new-generation materials meant to reduce the environmental impact of plastics — in order to make potato-based bioplastics stronger and easier to use; and
  • identifying traits in the wild relatives of current commercial potato varieties that could confer natural resistance to insects when bred into new potato varieties.

The funding for the three-year BioPotato Network project will flow through AAFC’s Agricultural Bioproducts Innovation Program (ABIP), which is meant to integrate talent from universities, industry and government in order to spur creativity, leverage resources, reduce costs and speed progress toward commercialization of bioproducts and processes.

Nationwide, potatoes are a $6 billion industry that creates over 30,000 jobs. Farmers in Atlantic Canada alone harvested over 1.7 million tonnes of spuds in 2008, the government said.

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