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Gefu Wang‑Pruski

Providing a healthier future for potatoes

By: Michelle Thompson

Whether mashed, baked, scalloped or fried… potatoes are often considered a comfort food by many but this humble vegetable has grown to become an integral part of much of the world's food supply and the number one vegetable crop in the world.

Researchers at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture continue to work with growers to produce high quality potatoes that are not only environmentally friendly but adaptive to different climates.

Dr. Gefu Wang-Pruski, a professor of molecular biology in the Department of Plant, Food and Environmental Sciences at the Faculty of Agriculture has been doing field to fork research on potatoes for nearly 20 years. “I try to help growers and consumers by producing potatoes that are environmentally friendly and that also provide a healthy food choice,” explains Wang-Pruski.

Her research program looks at producing food smartly, not just for high quality consumption but with a positive environmental impact on the soil, air and water needed to grow our food.  The end result is that high quality nutritious potatoes can be grown with a minimum input of fertilizer, pesticides and fungicides.

“There is a great need in the Maritime region for supporting this industry to lead to better economic growth, farm gate value and improved industrial performances,” explained Wang-Pruski.

Wang-Pruski is examining a number of different aspects in her potato research program including investigating and improving the quality of potatoes used for French fries by reducing the darker color that can often appear after cooking.  She is identifying the genetic markers of potatoes so they can be better adapted to growth in different climates around the world and is also working to improve potato production by managing the diseases and pests that can affect potatoes, such as late blight, Verticillium wilt, scab and wireworm. One of the major strategies being studied is to reduce the use of fungicides and pesticides that potato growers spray on their potatoes while they are growing.

“The strong support from the potato industry and positive feedback from growers makes my work more exciting and rewarding, which in turn influences everyone in my lab to become more committed to do excellent work,” explained Wang-Pruski.   

Dr. Wang-Pruski is also leading a consumer research initiative that examines potato consumption patterns and consumer needs while developing marketing strategies for the industry.  

Packed full of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, environmentally friendly and adaptive to different climates, the humble potato may not be so humble after all!