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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New plant breeding technology is being used by the James Hutton Institute to help blueberries thrive in the Scottish climate.
Part of a comprehensive package of research funded by the Scottish Government in environment and agriculture in 2015-2016, the project aims to produce blueberry plants that are more suited to the Scottish climate, helping to provide local options of this healthy fruit which may help manage type 2 diabetes.
Blueberry production in Scotland grew 10 per cent last year as demand continued to increase. Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said, “Blueberries are an increasingly popular fruit in the UK. Traditionally blueberries are imported to Scotland but this innovative research we are funding is using new technology to develop plants that are more suitable for the Scottish soil and climate as well as helping us to fully understand the health benefits of this fruit.
“Scottish blueberry production is already on the increase and this should help boost local production of this fruit – which is better for the environment and also good news for our economy.”
Dr Julie Graham, part of the James Hutton Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences and leader of the blueberry breeding programme commented, “Cutting-edge plant breeding technology is enabling the James Hutton Institute to develop new blueberry cultivars. These cultivars, better suited to Scottish conditions, should enable an increase in the home-grown blueberry crop, which will be of benefit to Scottish soft fruit growers. Long-term funding from the Scottish Government has been instrumental in supporting this research.”
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
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Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss used a visit to the Royal Highland Show last month to announce £1.3 million of funding from the Agri-Tech Catalyst programme for soft fruit projects led by the James Hutton Institute and James Hutton Limited.
The projects will use the latest advancements in understanding plant genetics to identify traits in raspberries that make them more resilient to pests and diseases, and in blueberries, traits that are better adapted to growing in Scotland’s cooler climate.
Secretary Elizabeth Truss said, “Scottish berries are up there with Scottish beef and lamb as a top quality UK product and this research will only enhance our reputation for producing good food both here and abroad. These projects demonstrate that by investing in the most cutting-edge techniques, and working collaboratively across the UK to raise standards, we can boost productivity and help more Scottish and UK producers to compete in international markets.”
Professor Bob Ferrier, Director of Research Impact at the James Hutton Institute, added, “This research is essential for the sustainability and commercial success of the Scottish and UK berry industry. Through the UK government’s investment in applying scientific innovation to address challenges faced across the agri-food supply chain, we can help producers grow more robust, disease resistant soft fruit varieties that are better suited to the UK market and climate.”
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