Strawberries are big in Florida, to the tune of $300 million a year. The industry may be able to add even more to that figure thanks to research in genetics from UF/IFAS, according to a news release on the findings. The research focuses on angular leaf spot, a disease that claims upwards of 10 percent of the Florida strawberry harvest every year. The pathogen does its worst damage in years with multiple freezes.
Researcher Vance Whitaker, a UF/IFAS associate professor of horticultural sciences, and a research team, including scientists from Oregon, The Netherlands and Canada, believe they found genetic markers that will lead to creating strawberry cultivars that are tolerant or resistant to angular leaf spot. Genetic markers are sequences of DNA that can be used to identify adjacent genes in a genetic map. This allows the researchers to have a better idea which of the developed cultivars may be more resistant to angular leaf spot during field tests. They’ve realized approximately 95 percent accuracy. Whitaker likened it to stacking a deck in your favor, making breeding for resistance easier.
Angular leaf spot is currently treated with copper-containing chemicals. The effectiveness of these chemicals is far from perfect, and they damage nearly as many strawberry plants as they save. The disease is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas fragariae, and it’s found in most major strawberry-producing regions in the world. The research will have applications in regions outside of Florida and the U.S., too. Researchers believe strawberry cultivars created as a result of the research will be available commercially in a few years.
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