Funding has been granted to investigate an innovative technique that could speed up the breeding of new strawberry varieties.
Based at East Malling Research in Kent, the three-year Horticultural Development Company studentship will start in autumn, aiming to build up information on which strawberry genes are associated with traits such as vigour and fruit quality.
Then by using the marker-assisted selection technique, breeders can identify at an early stage which individuals in a population of seedlings are likely to exhibit desirable traits and screen out those that do not, greatly cutting the typical time and cost of breeding new varieties.
According to project leader Dr Richard Harrison: "Now you have 5,000-10,000 seedlings each year, which is a phenomenal number to evaluate. We may even find that different traits are related to each other genetically and can all be selected at once."
If successful, the work could provide the basis for commercial selection not only by East Malling's own Strawberry Breeders Club but also other UK breeders. It could also provide fruit breeders with skills that are currently in short supply in the UK industry, he added.
Research position Graduate sought
Advertising for a graduate to conduct the research will begin shortly. "The skills required are quite transferable from modern genetic courses," said project leader Dr Richard Harrison.
"But there are no such courses dealing with practical horticulture, so finding a student who understands the industrial relevance of this will be harder, which is terrible really."