Scots scientists use gene profiling to improve our berries

BioSS, Scotland’s internationally renowned group of mathematicians and statisticians, has developed sophisticated methods for analysing data from crop experiments. It is enabling faster breeding of new varieties of Scottish soft fruit to meet emerging demands from food producers and the public.

Scotland, through SCRI (Scottish Crop Research Institute), leads the world in the breeding of soft fruit varieties, notably in raspberry and blackcurrant. Using advances in genetic profiling, new varieties are being developed that are healthier, tastier and disease-resistant.

As part of a Scottish Government funded research programme, BioSS has developed methods to identify the location of genes that influence the useful characteristics of the plants. This enables quicker and more precise breeding through traditional crossing.

In raspberry, the genetic control of damaging crop diseases such as raspberry root rot, and of the timing of fruit development and of fruit colour, have all been analysed, and a new project is in progress to study the genetic component of raspberry softening and spoiling in storage. The last project is a collaboration with industry funded by the HortLink programme.

In blackcurrants, the most serious pest is gall mite, and the BioSS-SCRI collaboration has identified a marker linked to a gene for resistance to this. Other studies have focused on the genetics controlling blackcurrant berry size and health-beneficial compounds such as vitamin C and anthocyanins.

An emerging fruit crop in Scotland is the blueberry. However blueberry breeding is complicated by the genetic configuration of the crop. While raspberries and blackcurrants, like humans and other mammals, have chromosomes that occur in pairs (“diploid”), blueberry chromosomes are in sets of four (“tetraploid”) and statistical analysis must take this into account.

BioSS and SCRI have developed novel statistical methods for genetic analysis in such species and have incorporated them in a user-friendly software package that is now used across the world by researchers studying other tetraploid crops, including potato, alfalfa, leek, coffee and even roses. These methods will be applied by BioSS as they work with SCRI and collaborators towards a sustainable local blueberry crop with key health promoting compounds.

Published on 04 January 2011 in Sustainability and Communities , Food, health and wellbeing