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Even More Nutritious Potatoes, Cereal Leaf Bettle

Posted by | May 5, 2010

Working to Make the Good Even Better

This Thanksgiving holiday, you could very well be serving turkey and stuffing with a side of purple, blue, or red mashed potatoes.

A team of researchers that includes WSU scientists and their USDA colleagues are working to develop potatoes with high antioxidant and nutrient levels. These added elements add color the potatoes in a variety of shades, from deep eggplant to crimson red.

“The colors in the potatoes are due to anthocyanins, very common pigments which are associated as being very strong anti-inflammatories and antioxidants,” said Chuck Brown, a USDA Agricultural Research Services scientist.

The benefits of having antioxidants fortified within potatoes are numerous, said Rick Knowles, one of the WSU scientists working on the project and chair of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.

“These antioxidants will make the potatoes more nutritious, and a diet high in antioxidants has been shown to reduce levels of cancer risk,” Knowles said. “But also, these colored potatoes could be considered more appealing in a culinary sense.”

Knowles said it was important to breed these potatoes because potatoes are often perceived as unhealthy.

“Potatoes often get a bad rap, but the reality is potatoes are one of the most nutritious foods out there,” Knowles said. “There has been a tremendous research effort to re-educate the public on the benefits of potatoes. These potatoes with antioxidant properties are another step in the right direction.”

But before these potatoes can be sold to consumers at the local grocery store or made into large batches of purple potato chips, research must be conducted on how to properly grow and farm these tubers, said USDA ARS scientist Roy Navarre.

“Right now, we are working on researching how to grow these potatoes, because these can not be grown the same way as more familiar potatoes,” Navarre said. “These potatoes need to be grown in a way so as to maximize their phytonutrient content.”

“Because potato varieties do not always grow the same way, new varieties must be put through rigorous research to determine the best management practices,” said Mark Pavek, potato agronomist and associate professor in WSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. “Our goal is for growers to produce these potatoes profitably while keeping our environment and limited resources healthy.”

The project has been a highly collaborative effort, spanning several states and institutions, including USDA, the University of Idaho and Oregon State University.

“This is team effort,” Pavek said. “We collaborate with researchers and industry people across the globe.”

Although many different institutions and researchers are involved in the project, the goal remains the same, Navarre said.

“Ultimately, everyone is concerned with what will be the best thing for the potato industry,” Navarre said. “And right now, the best thing for the industry would be to increase demand, so all of us have asked ourselves, as scientists, how can we increase demand? By making potatoes more nutritious.”

– By Kathryn R. Sullivan, Marketing and news intern

For more information on WSU’s participation in the multi-state effort to make potatoes even more nutritious, please visit

For more information on anthocyanins, please visit

WSU Cereal Leaf Beetle Battlers Win USDA Award

WSU researchers, along with their colleagues within the Western States Cereal Leaf Beetle Team, have declared war. A bug war, that is. And for the battles they have won they have received a major accolade from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The Western Cereal Leaf Beetle Team is being honored with the Deputy Administrator’s Safeguarding Award for 2009. Using biological controls, the team was able to minimize negative impacts from the cereal leaf beetle, an insect often found in cereal crops that has the potential to decrease yields in Washington by 25 percent.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture first found cereal leaf beetles in Spokane County in 1999 and, subsequently, started releasing biological control species — natural enemies of the pest — in 2000. Since 2003, the Western Cereal Leaf Beetle Team, led by WSU Extension educator Diana Roberts, has expanded the biological control program.

“The team is comprised of scientists from state and federal agencies and universities in seven U.S. states and three Canadian provinces,” said Roberts. “The teamwork and collaboration was excellent — they have been a great group to work with.”

Rather than using pesticides to ward off the cereal leaf beetles, which eventually may become costly for farmers to repeatedly apply, another insect combats the beetle. The primary biological control species being used is a wasp that is tiny and harmless to people, pets, livestock, plants and insects other than the cereal leaf beetle. Such biological controls are referred to as “parasitoids” because ultimately they kill their host, whereas “parasites” do not necessarily cause host death.

Because of the work done by the Western Cereal Leaf Beetle Team, farmers in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain regions have been able to minimize negative impacts resulting from the beetle, as well as reduce insecticide application. The use of the biological control potentially saves Washington growers $6.75 million annually.

The Deputy Administrator’s Safeguarding Award is given in recognition of both initiatives and innovations that make significant contributions to furthering the overall goal of safeguarding American agriculture and plant resources.

“For APHIS to recognize the value of the team’s approach is in itself unusual, and it says a lot about how special the efforts are and continue to be,” said Mitchell Nelson, plant health director for APHIS in Oregon. “Biological control work has very seldom been set apart for special recognition within APHIS, which makes this award doubly valued in my mind.”

– By Ashley Scourey, Marketing and News intern

For more information, see the WSU Department of Entomology’s Insect of the Week at

For more information on Diana Roberts and her efforts to control cereal leaf beetle, please visit