Blueprint for the ultimate berry

GEORGIA TECH / U. FLORIDA (US) — The completed genome sequence of the woodland strawberry has yielded a “parts list” that researchers say could help breed tastier, hardier varieties.

“For every organism on the planet, if you’re going to try to do any advanced science or use 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 components that make up the strawberry plant,” says Kevin Folta, an associate professor at the University of Florida and part of the international team involved in the project.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Genetics.

The woodland strawberry is a member of the Rosaceae family, which consists of more than 100 genera and 3,000 species. This large family includes many economically important and popular fruit, nut, ornamental and woody crops, including the cultivated strawberry, almond, apple, peach, cherry, raspberry, and rose.

In the long term, breeders will be able to use the information to create plants that can be grown with less environmental impact, better nutritional profiles, and larger yields.

“The wealth of genetic information collected by this strawberry genome sequencing project will help spur the next wave of research into the improvement of strawberry and other fruit crops,” says Mark Borodovsky, a professor of biomedical engineering with a joint appoint at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.

From a genetic standpoint, the woodland strawberry, formally known as Fragaria vesca, is similar to the cultivated strawberry but less complex, making it easier for scientists to study. The 14-chromosome woodland strawberry has one of the smallest genomes of economically significant plants, but still contains approximately 240 million base pairs.

Once the consortium uncovered the genomic sequence of the woodland strawberry, Borodovsky and Paul Burns, who worked on the project as a bioinformatics Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech, led the efforts in identifying protein-coding genes in the sequence. Using a newly developed pattern recognition program called GeneMark.hmm-ES+, Borodovsky and Burns identified 34,809 genes, of which 55 percent were assigned to gene families.

Further analysis of the woodland strawberry genome revealed genes involved in key biological processes, such as flavor production, flowering and response to disease. Additional examination also revealed a core set of signal transduction elements shared between the strawberry and other plants.

The project was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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