Scottish scientists looking for native blueberry variety

Scientists at the James Hutton Institute (JHI) at Invergowrie near Dundee are working to develop varieties of blueberry which are tailored for UK growing conditions.

Sales of blueberries have soared in recent years, with consumption increasing by 24 per cent last year, but up to 90 per cent of the crop is still imported. It is hoped that the closely related blaeberry (also known as the bilberry) could hold the key to developing native varieties.

JHI researcher Dr Susan McCallum told reporters at the recent Fruit for the Future event: “Blaeberries are native to the UK and other places across Europe, and they’re part of the same family as blueberries, so we’re looking to develop the genetic background of both the blueberry and blaeberry to see if we can identify which genes help the blaeberry to thrive so well in the UK, to see if we can transfer that into a UK blueberry.

“We’re also looking at the genes which confer the colour through the pulp of the blueberry to see if we can understand that because that’s what gives the extra anthocyanins and the perceived health benefits of the fruit.”

Wild blueberries need little nutrient input and are tolerant of periods of drought, so it is hoped that new varieties could also reduce the environmental impact of fruit production. “[Blaeberries] thrive well because they have a great relationship with fungi. We’re looking to see if we can isolate the fungi that work so well on the blaeberry and inoculate the blueberry to see if we can help it establish much quicker,” Dr McCallum added.

Photo Caption: It is hoped the native blaeberry could help to develop UK-specific varieties of blueberry.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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