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THE HAIRY POTATO GETS AN E FOR EXCELLENCE\ NO HALF-BAKED THEORIES HERE
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THE HAIRY POTATO GETS AN E FOR EXCELLENCE\ NO HALF-BAKED THEORIES HERE

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Scientists have developed a hairy potato that fights off pests and tastes the same.

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The ``green revolution' to feed hungry mouths in the developing world has a promising new star, scientists said Monday: the hairy potato.

Unlike most potatoes that are highly susceptible to pests, said scientist K.V. Raman, the hirsute spud fights them off.The shaggy tuber is developed from a wild potato with thin hairs. These hairs on the plant's stalks and leaves secrete a sticky substance that traps and kills small insects as they feed or reproduce.

The plant combats a larger common pest, the Colorado beetle, in a different way. The insect eats the leaves and gets a serious case of constipation from the sticky secretion. The bug's stomach bloats, crushing its ovaries and curtailing its reproduction.

Because of its built-in defense system against aphids, tuber moths, thrips, beetles, leaf hoppers, mealybugs and mites, growing the new potato will require less insecticide, which will be good for farmers and the environment.

Of the world's major food crops, potatoes require the heaviest application of agricultural insecticides, including highly toxic compounds, costing developing countries alone $300 million a year, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research said in a statement.

While the tufted tater will reduce such environmental and financial costs, it still tastes like a normal potato, said Professor Robert Plaisted of Cornell University, which has been developing hybrids under contract to the International Potato Center for 15 years. The new spud species also has the same nutritional value as currently cultivated potatoes, and similar yields and growing characteristics, he said.

The center has tested the new potatoes in the United States, Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Plaisted said the new potato species is ``the best method yet to give a broad spectrum of resistance to insects.' The non-toxic adhesive material on the potato hairs will control various pests from 50 percent to 95 percent, he said.

The news conference was called to announce that the potato center won the biennial King Baudouin International Agricultural Research Award for its 20 years of work to develop safe pest management, protecting potatoes and the environment.

The award, which carries a prize of $30,000, is funded by Belgium and named after that country's monarch.

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