Study aims for European funding

Breeding experts are inching towards disease resistance in apples, pears, strawberries and raspberries, and hope to tap into European funding to boost research.

A recent meeting of Europe's leading lights in the world of rosaceous genomics focused on developing DNA markers to improve breeding programmes.

"There's a lot of emphasis on disease resistance," said Dr David Simpson, a breeding-programme leader at East Malling Research, which hosted the two-day event.

"We are closing in on effective molecular methods to find a better way of breeding through disease resistance, and that's a top priority."

He said the 40 delegates who met just before Christmas talked about formalising a European scientific group that would launch a website, undertake joint research and look at applying for EU funds.

Similarities between plants at molecular level meant that know-ledge of agronomic genes and markers in one crop could be used as a shortcut to finding them in another, the group heard.

The wild strawberry, for example, could be used as a genetic model not only for the cultivated straw-berry but for tree fruits like apples and cherries.

"Molecular screening can help to detect the presence of resistant genes. Using DNA fingerprints to identify plants in gene-bank collections can save time and resources by reducing the need for expensive comparative trials," Simpson said.

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