Britain's potato industry is rooting for researchers at Nottingham Trent University in their bid to understand what causes potatoes to become bruised.
Rejecting such potatoes costs the industry Pounds 30 million a year. Andy Cobb, project leader at the university's department of life sciences, said that bruised potatoes are often slung out when it comes to using them in products like chips and crisps. The loss can be up to Pounds 200 a year for every hectare of land.
The three-year project will be carried out under a Pounds 2,000 contract from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and will look into ways of preventing the nasty black patches which often appear in the tubers.
Professor Cobb said: "Our research will lead to a greater understanding of exactly what happens within the tuber cells to cause this kind of bruising and how these biological processes can be changed to help counteract the problem. We hope it will eventually result in better practical guidance for farmers and the processing industry in general."
The researchers believe that the black spots are caused by a pigment called melanin which is generated as part of the natural internal healing process when potatoes are damaged.
Professor Cobb's team wants to identify the enzymes large complex proteins produced in cells which could be responsible for causing this process.
Once identified, the activity of these enzymes could be modified by genetic engineering to help prevent the black patches appearing.
Further backing for work on the potatoes at the university is being provided by the Potato Marketing Board which is funding a research studentship for an investigation of the breakdown of proteins in potatoes. Protein breakdown is another major factor determining the commercial potential of potatoes for an industry worth Pounds 1.5 billion a year.