Breeding strawberries with specific traits

Monday, 04 March, 2019

Breeding strawberries with specific traits

Whether it’s increasing the flavour or producing a disease-resistant variety, breeders may be able to grow strawberries that satisfy all needs after scientists have uncovered the genetic roadmap of the cultivated strawberry.

Published in the journal Nature Genetics, an international team of scientists led by the University of California, Davis, and Michigan State University have sequenced and analysed the genome of the cultivated strawberry, which will provide a genetic roadmap to help more precisely select desired traits.

"Without the genome we were flying blind," said Steven Knapp, Professor of Plant Sciences and Director of the UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program. "It was like having a library of books, but all the books' pages were blank."

This will help growers who struggle to protect the fruit against diseases such as Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt and Macrophomina without having to use fumigants. The assembled genome will allow scientists to pinpoint specific genes that can protect the plant against diseases, and sequencing the genome will help unravel the complexity of strawberry diseases that involve several different genes.

"The genome sequence is powerful because it provides scientists with barcodes for nearly all the genes in strawberry. We can use that information to identify genes that play an important role in traits of agricultural importance," Knapp said.

Scientists may also be able to find genes that lead to increased flavour or aroma for the consumer, while maintaining the firmness and shelf life for producers.

Patrick Edger, co-corresponding author with Michigan State University, and his team also deciphered the origin and evolution of the cultivated strawberry. Unlike humans, where each cell contains two complete sets of chromosomes, the cultivated strawberry is an octoploid, meaning each cell in a strawberry plant contains eight complete sets of chromosomes, so untangling its evolution is a feat.

The study stated: "These findings and the reference genome should serve as a powerful platform for future evolutionary studies and enable molecular breeding in strawberry."

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