Strawberry Genome Sequence Published

GrowingProduce.  28 December 2010. An international team of scientists led by the University of Florida (UF), Virginia Tech, and Oregon State University is the first to publish the DNA sequence for the strawberry — a development expected to yield tastier, hardier varieties of the berry and other crops in its family.  The genome sequence, obtained by a team of 75 researchers from 38 institutions around the globe, was published Dec. 26 in the online version of the journal Nature Genetics.

“We’ve created the strawberry parts list,” said researcher Kevin Folta, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “For every organism on the planet, if you’re going to try any advanced research, such as molecular-assisted breeding, a parts list is really helpful. In the old days, we had to go out and figure out what the parts were. Now we know the molecular nuts and bolts that make up the strawberry plant.”

Having that “parts list” in hand will enable strawberry breeders to bring new varieties to market faster, creating plants that can be grown with less environmental impact, better nutritional profiles, and larger yields.  “All of those dividends are probably at least a decade off, but they are definitely realities on the horticultural radar screen,” said Folta, a member of the UF Genetics Institute.

Vladimir Shulaev, a University of North Texas biological sciences professor who led the project while a faculty member of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, said having the genome sequence means strawberry breeders can unravel — and improve upon — even a complex trait, such as fruit quality or aroma. It will also help to create fruits containing higher levels of phytochemicals with health benefits.

Janet Slovin, a plant molecular biologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, MD, who was part of the research team, said scientists may be able to help growers create berries that mature earlier or later than existing varieties so that they can get their product to market when no one else can.  “That means if you’re a grower, you can extend your growing season, get a better price per flat, and use your land more — and that’s exactly what growers want,” she said.

The consortium sequenced the woodland strawberry, a wild relative of today’s cultivated strawberry varieties. From a genetic standpoint, the woodland strawberry is similar to the cultivated strawberry but less complex, making it easier for scientists to use in research.  The research was distinctive in several ways, Folta said. First, it had no central funding source, unlike some similar genome-sequencing projects. Scientists donated time and used parts of smaller grants, to cover costs.  read more