Researchers map wild strawberry genome

A global team of researchers from five continents, including scientists from the UK's East Malling Research (EMR) in Kent, has published the genome of the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca).

It is hoped that the research, published last month in Nature Genetics, will make life easier for growers by enabling strawberry breeders to develop varieties with disease resistance and improved fruit quality.

Dr Dan Sargent from EMR collaborated on the international project as part of the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council's crop science initiative, set up to fund research into future plant breeding.

He hopes that the genome will help to identify genes that are resistant to strawberry wilt (Verticillium dahliae) in particular because this is the most common soil-born pathogen of cultivated strawberries. Although resistant varieties do currently exist, they do not meet the quality criteria required to sell to consumers.

Access to the wild strawberry genome may allow breeders to produce varieties that need less pesticide treatment but retain the best characteristics of taste, appearance and nutrition.

The researchers found that the wild strawberry genome possesses around 35,000 genes - about one-and-a-half times the number of genes humans carry - and that most of these genes have been retained by the varieties we eat. The wild strawberry is also closely related to other important food crops including apples, peaches, pears and raspberries, and to roses. Its genome sequence will therefore be able to help breeders of those plants produce new varieties with similarly improved traits.

Sargent said: "The wild strawberry is an important genome to sequence because it is closely related to a number of important things that we eat. Because farmers have been cross-breeding and hybridising food crops for centuries to improve traits like taste and nutritional value, they tend to have large complicated genomes. But the wild strawberry's is relatively small and we can access all of these useful genes quite easily."

The international group sequenced the genome by breaking it up into millions of short segments that were sequenced individually and then re-assembled. The UK-based team at EMR worked on piecing together the genome using a map based on other strawberry genomes that they had worked on.

Sargent added: "Historically genomes have been sequenced using a combination of longer and shorter sequences. The shorter sequences are quicker and cheaper to sequence but, like with a jigsaw, reassembling the complete picture is harder with lots of little pieces rather than with fewer big ones. For the first time with a plant, this genome was sequenced entirely using short sequences.

"We were able to assimilate all of the small pieces at EMR because previous strawberry genomes we'd worked on were like the picture on the jigsaw box that told us what the wild strawberry's chromosomes should look like."

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