"This is a big deal," said Julian Little from the GM industry group, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), in an article in the Guardian newspaper. "There have been no trials in this country since the government's field scale trials and the industry is going to be very interested to see how these go."
BASF has applied to the Department of the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) to conduct two field trials, one hectare in Derbyshire and another in the National Institute for Agricultural Botany in Cambridge.
"We are applying to conduct two field trials in the UK because late blight has a significant impact on UK food production. If the genes from the wild potato help to protect potato crops it will be a scientific breakthrough," said BASF's Barry Stickings.
"In an increasingly competitive international environment, we believe UK farmers would benefit from this technology. The disease currently results in 5 to 10 per cent of the UK potato yield being lost each year, despite the use of fungicides"
The GM spuds are currently being field tested in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands.
Potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) is reported to cause over £50m (€74m) worth of damage to crops every year, as well as the extra £20m (€30m) farmers spend on fungicides to try to limit the damage.
The worldwide cost of blight is estimated at £2bn (€3bn).
To make the potatoes resistant to the fungus the BASF scientists extracted genes from wild Mexican potatoes and spliced them into normal crop potatoes. When the potato becomes infected with the blight fungus, a sacrificial defence kicks in by which the new genes kill of cells around the site of infection, thereby stopping further spread.
If the Secretary of State approves the application, said BASF, planting will take place in spring 2007 and harvesting will be in autumn 2007. The field trials will be repeated over the following four years.
The blight-resistant potatoes were granted consent for field tests in Ireland in May of this year. Potato blight caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 19th Century, responsible for the death of an estimated one million people. BASF subsequently dropped the field trials at the end of the same month, citing conditions imposed by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about restricting the planting season.