Colorado State University's Pat Bedinger compares a large domesticated tomato with a small wild tomato.
Colorado State University's Pat Bedinger compares a large domesticated tomato with a small wild tomato.

Wild tomato species could help breeders develop potatoes resistant to late blight fungus, which caused the Irish potato famine.

This latest research project, led by Colorado State University biologist Pat Bedinger, will be funded by a $5.8 million National Science Foundation grant, according to a news release.

It builds on Bedinger's earlier work examining why wild tomato species don't interbreed and create new species.

Through that work, she found that female flower tissue, or pistils, recognize and reject male tissue, or pollen, from the wrong wild tomato species.

Her group isolated the genes responsible for this process.

Because tomatoes and potatoes are closely releated, Bedinger says she believes the same process is at work in potatoes.

Several wild species of potatoes are resistant to late blight, caused by Phytophthora infestans.

Typically, wild species will reject the male pollen of cultivated species, making it difficult to move genetic material from wild species into a breeding program.

“Can we understand how male and female tissues communicate with each other and use what we’ve learned to make a difference with the potato?” Bedinger asked in the release.