Breeding better Brussels sprouts

U. WARWICK (UK) —The discovery of the genetic basis of a broad-spectrum resistance to a pathogen that affects a variety of leafy crops should contribute to advances in food safety, according to a new study.

The Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV) has been known to affect Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, swede, and oilseed rape.

“TuMV causes really nasty-looking black necrotic spots on the plants it infects—’a pox on your vegetables!’,” says John Walsh of the University of Warwick.

“This can cause significant yield losses and often leaves an entire crop unfit for marketing. At best, a field of badly affected Brussels sprouts might provide some animal fodder, but these vegetables would not be appealing to most shoppers. The virus is particularly difficult to control because it is transmitted so rapidly to plants by the insect vectors.”

Researchers identified the major gene involved in resistance to TuMV and discovered the way it creates resistance is completely new.

Using this knowledge, they found that it was possible to identify plants with an inherent resistance that could be used to speed up the breeding process and develop resistant commercial varieties.

They tested resistant Brussels sprout plants against a range of virus strains from all over the world, and none were able to overcome the resistance.

The team is now working to breed resistance into Chinese cabbage and hope in the future to do the same with other crops such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale.

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