Moth spit produces bigger potatoes

ITHACA, N.Y. (UPI) — Spit from a caterpillar helps Colombian Andes potatoes grow larger, a finding that could benefit farmers worldwide, scientists said.

The saliva of the potato moth larvae, Tecia solanivora, increases the rate of photosynthesis in the Colombian Andes potato plant, Solanum tuberosum, researchers from Cornell University said.

More photosynthesis means more carbon is drawn into the plant, which creates more starch and larger tubers, said co-author Andre Kessler, who teaches ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell.

The plant may be compensating for tubers lost to damage from the caterpillar, a major pest, researchers from Cornell and the National University of Colombia said in a release Thursday.

“This could be an example where the co-evolutionary arms race led to a beneficial outcome for both,” Kessler said.

Future experiments will test more commercial varieties of potatoes, as well as wild potatoes, Kessler and his team wrote in a recent issue of the journal Ecological Applications.

Received and published by Henry Sapiecha 7th June 2010

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