KeyGene Seminar Highlights the Benefits of DNA Analysis in Product Selection | Article

DNA analysis can increase the efficiency of breeding for favorable traits in the fruit sector, experts say ahead of KeyGene seminar

Next week’s KeyGene Seminar, which will be streamed live on line on September 27, will focus on the beneficial use of DNA analysis in the breeding of asexually reproducing crops.

While DNA sequencing and genetic markers are routinely used for field crops like wheat and corn, the practice is less common in fruits, with some breeders apparently put off by the apparent complexity. In strawberries, for example, eight sets of chromosomes make the work of analysis much more difficult.

“Some companies have a good track record in DNA analysis,” says Erik Toussaint of the KeyGene Plant Research Group, “so we thought we’d host a webinar to share our experiences, insights, and barriers we face when introducing DNA analysis as a tool in animal husbandry, as well as how to inspire people to think that maybe they too could start including DNA analysis. DNA in their breeding.

The experience of early adopters of DNA analysis approaches, say the organizers, shows that “building genomic and genetic toolkits, staging the integration of different molecular technologies and building capacity internal are crucial success factors”.

“We want to boost efficiency,” says Graham Clarkson of Edward Vinson, a fruit breeder in south-east England and one of the main suppliers of soft fruits to major UK supermarkets. “DNA analysis can give us a better understanding of what we can do. We plan for 12 to 15 years. Everyone wants higher yields, but how do you get that yield with increased shelf life, better sizes, better flavor? For any trait you are interested in, if there is a genetic aspect to it, DNA analysis can help.

“Traits are not always encoded with a single gene,” Toussaint adds. “If six genes have an influence on the trait, it’s a hell of a job to find out which plants have that combination without looking at the DNA. When you find out which parts of the DNA are involved in the trait, it really makes life easier.

Whether breeding for greater flavor or for resistance to disease, drought or temperature extremes, DNA analysis has the ability to speed up the process.

For fruits that take years to produce, such as apples, being able to predict taste aspects at the seedling stage and exclude 10 to 20 percent of the plants can save time and money, according to Toussaint.

“We all think we can say this is one type of banana, this is another type, so let’s cross them to get the perfect banana,” he says. “But there are plants that look alike and have a totally different genetic makeup; and there are plants that look very different to us and are genetically almost identical. Understanding DNA is therefore of great help.

For Clarkson, DNA analysis has great potential in the soft fruit category, allowing our breeders to make more informed decisions and plan better.

“In the future, there will be more and more data, so it all depends on how you interpret it,” he says. “We are constantly learning and developing our knowledge. We hope to be able to seize the opportunities offered by this technology. If everyone is using DNA analysis and you’re the last one, that’s probably the biggest risk.

And what about the off-putting complexity? “In the end, I hear breeders say that it was not ‘easy’, but it was easier than they thought”, confirms Toussaint. “People may find the barriers too high, but that was also the case in the vegetable sector, and now breeders have their own labs.”