Photo: Adam P Schweigert/WFIU
What do African elephants, moths, and strawberries have in common?
They’ve all had their genomes mapped.
Solving The Puzzle
This month, a group of 79 researchers completed the genome for the woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca), which is now added to a small list of food plants that have had their genetic sequence charted. Mapping strawberries may open the door to understanding other fruits in the Rosaceae family like apples, plums, peaches, raspberries, and pears.
Scientists hope that by studying the strawberry’s genome they can breed plants to be more resistant to disease and bruising and will also have a faster growing time. Finding plants that consistently exhibit desirable traits may normally take up to 15 years through many generations of trial and error strawberries. Having a genome of each plant to study would quicken this process.
What’s Next for Strawberries?
If breeders use the genome to produce faster growing and more consumer-friendly strawberries, it is very likely that strawberry prices will go down.
However, some worry that genome sequencing will also pave the way for introducing Genetically Modified strawberries similar to GM corn or salmon. This concern is why the strawberry industry donated very little to the project.
However, the scientists say their research is focused on finding ways to speed up the growing process and produce hardier strawberries, not create GM fruit. “With the genome sequenced,” horticulturist Kevin Folta says, “researchers can instead grow a plant to seedling size, check it for the gene that controls the trait they’re looking for, and, if it’s there, focus breeding efforts on that plant.”