Finding the genes for tastier blueberries

Wednesday, 14 October, 2015

Tastier blueberries could be on their way, with US researchers identifying the flavour traits that consumers desire and developing specific breeding targets to improve flavour.

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) researchers harvested 19 cultivars of blueberries and tested them in 30 panels at the university’s sensory lab.

217 people, many of whom were repeat panellists, taste-tested the blueberries. The high participation level enabled researchers to determine which biochemical compounds were most closely associated with blueberry flavour and that people liked the most.

With blueberries, scientists can make clones of each cultivar, so the same plant — with the same set of genetic characteristics –— can be grown in different environments and under different farm management practices, said lead researcher Jim Olmstead, UF/IFAS associate professor of horticultural sciences.

“After identifying the compounds most associated with blueberry flavour, we sought to determine those that are more regulated by genetics,” Olmstead said. “These are the things that can be improved by breeding and selection.

“The environment that a plant is grown in can impact its performance, so we are interested in learning how each cultivar performs in different environments,” he said. “A better cultivar would be one that performs very similarly in different environments. We can’t always control the environment. We can’t control the weather.”

But as a breeder, Olmstead said he can select cultivars for higher or lower levels of a taste compound if it has a high level of genetic control.

“We put the same genetics in different environments to determine which compounds were the most stable,” Olmstead said.

This study follows a previous project which found that consumers prefer blueberries’ taste over their nutritional value. Both of these studies are part of an ongoing group effort by multidisciplinary scientists in the UF/IFAS Plant Innovation Center to make new fruit cultivars that appeal to consumers because they look, smell and taste better.

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