Professor Andrés Contreras. An enthusiastic life for potatoes. (1943-2014)

Ciampi, L.


Original Research Article, Editorial


November 30th 2014, left this world this passionate man, who devoted all his academic life to collect, preserve and study plant genetic resources, particularly potatoes originated from Chile. From humble origins he was born in central Chile (Algarrobo) the 5th day of January of 1943. He attended the Algarrobo Basic School No. 19 and later the San Antonio Secondary School. Then, in 1964 he applied and was accepted to the Agronomy School at the Austral University, Valdivia, in those years a branch of the University of Chile.
I remember very well a day in 1969 at the Vista Alegre Experimental Station when this young, skinny, highly energetic and full of passion man said to me: this is “cielo”, this is “mojona”, this is “mantequilla”, and so on. He already knew the local name of his “papas chilotas”. His major professor offered him a unique subject for his research Thesis: to collect, evaluate and maintain potatoes originated from the South of Chile. From my part, I was devoted to study soft rot and blackleg occurrence on potatoes. It was the beginning of a friendship and mutual collaboration, for many years. Between 1969 and 1970 his work was quite a challenge: to classify 260 potato clones, listed at the Austral University Germplam Bank and collected earlier by professors Sergio Mora, Patricio Montaldo, and himself. Using a long list of phenotypic characteristics he recognized around 200 from Chiloé, one of the sub-centers of dispersion of Solanum tuberosum subsp. tuberosum.
After obtaining his Agronomist degree, he was hired as a Faculty member of the Agricultural Sciences College of Austral University of Chile, now a very young institution just granted autonomy by the Chilean Congress. Andres’s duties were related to Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics subjects. However, he felt he needed to upgrade his professional knowledge in order to fulfill his goals, and in 1975 he left with his family to Germany to pursue further studies in Plant Breeding and Cytogenetics at the Max Planck Institute. He returned to Chile to teach and continuing studying Chilean potatoes. Later he spent some time at the University of Birmingham, England, at the Universidad Agraria La Molina, Lima, Peru, and the International Potato Center (CIP) also in Lima. Now his professional training was fulfilled but not his research goals.
During the following years, several Expeditions to collect native potatoes were conducted in the south of Chile, Robinson Crusoe Island, and other places in Chile where he suspected that potatoes were growing under non-cultivated conditions. He was able to apply and obtain important national and international funds for his research. He was also a unique speaker, and large crowds always attended his conferences, in Chile and abroad. Later, he became the curator of the Chilean Potato Germplasm Bank. With the time he became a believer that potatoes were originated from the southern part of Chile. Andres was very proud of the medal given to him by The International Board of Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR) in recognition to his work, and also from other recognitions, which he rarely mentioned. He once told me: “a man must be judged by his work”. His work was awesome in research papers published, grants, and extension courses. Lately, his potatoes become known in the Chilean cuisine: purple mash potatoes, and all kinds of color ones, to day largely use in “hors d’oeuvres” served as “petite bouchée” along with the “Chilean Pisco Sour”. He funded a small enterprise along with his son Boris: “Rainbow Potatoes”…. a way of perpetuating his work toward society and his devotion to potatoes.
What made Andres a man for all seasons? Primarily, his particularly persevering personality, also, his deeply devotion for the plant genetic resources of his country, and especially, his compromise for teaching new generations at his beloved Agronomy School at the Austral University of Chile.