The search for the ideal strawberry plant

At Wimbledon, strawberries and cream

Hugh Lowe Farms, a supplier to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships for more than 25 years, is based in Kent, and Marion Regan is the fifth generation owner.

The farm uses a variety of farming methods to produce about 5,000 tonnes of strawberries between April and November.

"We begin with production in a glasshouse before switching to production in a field-scale poly tunnel. After that, we return to glasshouses. To achieve a good production curve that, hopefully, will satisfy the market's needs, we use a variety of varieties and plant types. ".

The Wimbledon Championships' main draw may be strawberries, which come in second place to tennis. In fact, the annual tournament consumes more than 38.4 tonnes of strawberries, or nearly two million strawberries.

The British Isles have long grown their own varieties of strawberries. However, the ones we consume today are a result of decades of cross breeding, which included a combination of North and South American varieties.

Strawberries and cream at Wimbledon
Every year at Wimbledon, almost two million strawberries are sold.

"The breeding effort revolves around mating two excellent parents. This is typically accomplished by transferring pollen from one plant to another. choosing [the best] from the progeny after that," says Ms. Regan.

Advances in gene science have given producers new ways to enhance their produce, though, much like in much of the agricultural sector.

In order to expedite the search for improved varieties, Ms. Regan uses genetic markers.

She emphasizes that genomic informed breeding does not involve gene editing or genetic modification, but rather analyzing strawberry varieties' genetic traits to determine which ones to breed from.

When scientists completed their genome mapping of the cultivated strawberry four years ago, these methods received a boost.

With the help of this knowledge, breeders are now producing strawberries with enhanced and new flavors, including a savory strawberry.

The information might buck a recent trend in which producers and distributors of fruits and vegetables have prioritized uniformity, size, and shape at the expense of flavor.

According to Heather Smyth, a specialist in flavor chemistry and sensory evaluation at the University of Queensland, the food industry has gotten very good at figuring out the aromas that draw us in.

"In the food industry, we extract those flavors or create synthetic strawberry- or raspberry-flavored products, then add them to sugary tubes and candies to trick our brains into thinking they are healthy. ".

Fruits and vegetables, however, have received different attention.

"Flavor has been overlooked in favor of shape, size, and uniformity, and junk food is being pumped up with artificial flavors to mimic what we ought to love. It's unjust. ".

A decrease in strawberry flavor has also been connected to increased yield and the application of fungicides.

Heather Smyth, an expert in sensory evaluation and flavour chemistry at the University of Queensland
According to Heather Smyth, people have prioritized size and uniformity over flavor when choosing fresh produce.

This will be reversed as a result of Prof. Smyth's project.

Strawberries have really intriguing flavor chemistry. Our breeding program's varieties all have good genetic profiles, and strawberries may differentiate similarly to apples in the future. ".

Prof. Smyth is a participant in a five-year project that will begin in 2022 and is overseen by Australia's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF). The project's goal is to develop a sophisticated understanding of the genetics underlying strawberry flavor.

In order to create genetic markers that will enable breeders to foretell flavor in future varieties, the team will investigate texture, taste, and aroma.

One outcome is the creation of a premium strawberry line with as much variety as apples that is aimed at high-income foreign markets.

Prof. Smyth's team does not use gene editing, a potent tool that enables scientists to breed fruit with traits that would otherwise take decades to develop using conventional breeding techniques.

Strawberry varieties
New strawberry varieties might be commercialized thanks to genetic engineering.

Fast-tracking the development of crops with improved flavor, nutritional value, and resistance to environmental stressors like disease or drought is promised.

Precision breeding, also known as gene editing, differs from genetic modification in that the genetic changes could have happened naturally or through conventional breeding techniques, whereas genetic modification can involve moving genes across species boundaries.

Specialized enzymes cut DNA along the DNA sequence at predetermined locations during gene editing. DNA can be precisely added, removed, or replaced at these locations.

The UK has not yet authorized the sale of any gene-edited crops as food, despite the fact that some gene-edited products are already available elsewhere in the world. However, this may soon change.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act, which was passed on March 23, legalized genetic editing in England. With fewer fertilizers and pesticides needed, it is hoped that farmers will be able to grow crops that are better suited to our changing climate.

Some charities are concerned about the Act because it affects both plants and vertebrate animals (apart from people).

"Any form of genetic engineering carries risks of unintended consequences," said Friends of the Earth (FOE) campaigner Kierra Box. "These consequences can range from unexpected impacts on biodiversity in production to unexpected allergens in products.".

It will be nearly impossible for organic farmers and consumers to avoid the potential effects of eating foods that have been genetically modified without proper risk assessment, traceability, and labeling, she continues.

The response has been primarily positive when it comes to crops, though.

Precision breeding, according to the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), may enable us to replace the 59,000 tonnes of imported strawberries with domestic varieties. This would account for nearly a third of all strawberries consumed in the UK annually.

Abi Johnson, strawberry breeder
In her study, Abi Johnson aims to lengthen the strawberry crop's growing season.

Over 20 years ago, Abi Johnson began her career as a strawberry breeder; most recently, she served as the project manager for NIAB.

"When I first got into the strawberry business, they were only grown for four weeks out of the year. These days, you can grow them almost year-round. That was accomplished through breeding," the woman claims.

However, she continues, it can take up to eight years for a new variety to reach the point at which it can be sold.

"Only 1% of the approximately 13,000 seedlings we grow are chosen. It's insane. This process is repeated yearly. ".

Whether it's plants suitable for robotic harvesting or vertical farming, flavor trends, or climate resilience, Ms. Johnson's team must attempt to forecast what people will want in eight years.

Business technology has become more sophisticated.

According to her, there are numerous opportunities to support safer, more secure, and environmentally friendly farming and food production systems through gene editing.

NIAB is already in charge of a number of research initiatives, such as strawberry flowering time variation to lengthen the domestic growing season.

Marion Regan believes that strawberries will only get better when they return to Kent.

"Strawberries come in such a wide variety of flavors. There are aromatic notes and much crisper notes available. We could make some very interesting advancements in traits that are highly valued by the market, especially flavor and eating quality, with the help of gene editing.

. "

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