Did you just say... Protato?!

The protato is a genetically modified potato developed in New Delhi, 2002, designed to help eradicate starvation and malnutrition in poverty stricken sectors of countries like India. It is said to contain a third more protein than normal potatoes do; it also incorporates larger amounts of essential amino acids, lysine and methionine than normal potatoes, elements that are crucial to the healthy development of growing bodies.

Are they safe?
I heard that genetically modified foods create new and stronger pests!

The protato is said to be safer than many other genetically modified crops because the gene (AmA1) that has been used to alter it comes from an already widely consumed source. Furthermore, it does not contain any pesticide genes, and therefore cannot create any pesticide resistant pests!

What good can do this do a country like India,
whose poor can't afford to buy this food anyway?

Due to globalisation and internal poverty, problems like food distribution can make experiments like the protato appear to be pointless and a waste of resources; even shipping mass quantities of food in to a place like India is pointless, as they are currently exporting food stocks to attain income. It has also been argued that the protato, and its predecessor golden rice, are pointless because the common diet in India already has enough nutrition without introducing genetically modified produce. The good thing about genetically modified produce like the protato, is that it is a step towards greater things in a world of famine and poverty. While it may have no immediate effect upon implementation, the future cases of genetic modified foods may provide those in need of healthy, sellable crops, a chance to better their circumstances.


The protato is a rather wonderful example of genetic modification (GM) that is almost completely pointless, but makes for good headlines. The original reports suggested that it would have a third again more protein than a normal potato, as Wessabessa says. A few years later, the Indian press was reporting that it contained 60% more protein! Wow. Now, what's 160% of sod-all? That's right - still sod-all. Normal potatoes are less than 2% protein when boiled, so protatoes would have a little over 3%. It's not a totally insignificant amount, but lentils, for example, contain several times as much, without splicing in amaranth genes. It is almost impossible to imagine a situation in which investing in modified potatoes would be a better use of resources than encouraging people to grow more lentils, if your worry is that people aren't eating enough protein.

Genetic modification may well have a role to play in reducing malnutrition, and to be fair, the protato might even be a worthwhile development, despite the gruesomely ugly name - but the whole thing bears so little relation to the genuine problems faced by hungry people that it is hard to see it as much more than a PR exercise for GM.

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