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Want to improve the taste of strawberries? Make them peachy

Better tasting strawberries have a hint of peach to their flavor, thanks to a single gene. Scientists say this knowledge can be used to identify and breed strawberry plants with stronger and sweeter fruits.

Two studies, published in the open access journal BMC Genomics agree that the gene FaFAD1, which is activated in ripening fruits, including peaches and apricots, produces a key component of strawberry flavor. They also found that the gene is missing entirely from many popular strawberry varieties.

Flavor is a complex interaction between chemicals in food and the human senses. The gene, FaFAD1 encodes a fatty-acid desaturase, which kick-starts production of a gamma-decalactone, the compound that gives peaches their distinctive flavor. Modern strawberry farmers have bred their crops to improve yield and size, but not necessarily flavor. The scientists say that the identification of this gene will mean it can be easily detected in breeding populations, allowing researchers to identify specific breeding lines with a high likelihood of improved flavors. This “marker-assisted” approach will allow strawberry breeders to produce new varieties with improved flavors faster than with conventional breeding methods.

The paper by researchers at IFAPA in Malaga, Spain, used 20 different breeding lines of strawberries, mostly with a Californian origin. They searched across the genomes of these lines for genes associated with fruit producing gamma-decalactone, and showed that lines without FaFAD1 never produced gamma-decalactone. This was also true for several additional lines tested.

At the same time, the group at the University of Florida looked at gene expression in the strawberry fruits of an aromatic French variety, and compared it to the genes expressed in fruits that did and didn’t produce gamma-decalactone. This identified the single gene FaFAD1 which was not even present in the fruits that did not produce the compound.

Dr Iraida Amaya, from IFAPA-Centro de Churriana, Spain says: “The fact that the same gene is responsible for the variation in gamma-decalactone in very diverse cultivars is very important. Ours have mostly a Californian pedigree while Dr. Folta used a parental line from the Florida and an aromatic cultivar with French origin. This means that a marker in this gene would likely predict the presence/absence of the gene in breeding programs worldwide. The implementation of different markers for each desired trait will hopefully allow the efficient breeding of highly productive strawberries with tasteful fruits in the future.”

Dr Kevin Folta from the University of Florida says: “Because two different methods arrived at the same conclusion, it allows us to be a little more firm about connecting this gene to the trait in the absence of biochemical and transgenic plant data. As a scientist I always want more data to make sure I’m not making a mistake. When scientists like Dr. Amaya’s group say you have it correct, that’s really solid confirmation!”


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Notes to Editor

1. Identification of a Candidate Strawberry Flavor Gene Using an Integrated Genetic-Genomic-Analytical Chemistry Approach
Alan H. Chambers, Jeremy Pillet, Anne Plotto, Jinhe Bai, Vance M. Whitaker and Kevin M. Folta
BMC Genomics 2014, 15:217
Available at the journal website

Deciphering gamma-decalactone biosynthesis in 1 strawberry fruit using a combination of genetic mapping, RNA-Seq and eQTL analyses
Jose F. Sanchez-Sevilla, Eduardo Cruz-Rus, Victoriano Valpuesta, Miguel A. Botella and Iraida Amaya
BMC Genomics 2014, 15:218
Available at journal website

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2. BMC Genomics is an open access, peer-reviewed journal that considers articles on all aspects of genome-scale analysis, functional genomics, and proteomics.
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