Transferring genetic markers in plant breeding is a challenge, but a team of grapevine breeders and scientists at Cornell University has come up with a new method that improves fruit quality and acts as a key defense against pests and a changing climate. To develop new varieties, plant breeders use genetic markers to bring desirable traits from wild species into their cultivated cousins.
The Cornell team’s new technique for developing genetic markers improves markers’ transfer rate across grapevine species from 2% to 92%. With it, breeders can screen their collections and find out immediately which have the traits they want – regardless of their variety, origination, or hereditary species.
The new marker development strategy is applicable for breeding and genetic studies across plant species and other diverse organisms, said co-author Bruce Reisch, professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and leader of Cornell’s Grapevine Breeding and Genetics Program. To create the genetic markers, the research team used automated DNA sequencing technology to create a “core genome” for grapevines, matching important regions shared between 10 species’ genomes. Using new genetic mapping technology, they targeted those regions to develop robust DNA markers.
This breakthrough in translating the grapevine genome into a common language for breeders is central to the mission of VitisGen2, the second iteration of a multi-institution research project from which the new marker development strategy emerged.
“This is game-changing work – and it’s only the beginning,” said Donnell Brown, president of the National Grape Research Alliance, an industry-led nonprofit representing the research interests of wine, juice, raisin and table grapes. “From here, we can greatly accelerate the genetic exploration that will help us improve fruit and production quality and, ultimately, respond to the threats of pests and diseases, a changing climate and more.”