14TSB_ATC_IR Developing resource-use efficient strawberries for substrate production

Lead Research Organisation: East Malling Research (United Kingdom)
Department Name: Science


The aim of the project is to improve the sustainability and efficiency of UK strawberry production by using innovative technologies to develop improved cultivars and systems for soil-less culture. Strawberries account for around 60% of total berry production. The strawberry market is worth c. £450 million based on retail sales, and UK production exceeded 108,000 tonnes in 2012. With annual growth of 10-15% p.a., production in the UK has shown the largest increase in Europe with a rise of 156% in the last ten years. New and improved cultivars and innovative technologies has enabled growers to extend the season of production to at least eight months of the year. This increase has led to a significant reduction in reliance of imported fruit; home production marketed as a percentage of total supply was 66% in 2012 compared to 53% in 2002. However with fresh strawberry imports worth c. £122.8 million, there is still scope to improve self-sufficiency of the UK industry. To do so UK growers will need to adopt new products and embrace new methods to further improve the efficiency of production and season extension. Following the withdrawal of the soil sterilant methyl bromide in 2009, the incidence of soil-borne diseases such as crown rot and Verticillium wilt has increased considerably. Chloropicrin has been adopted as a substitute product, but since this also faces an uncertain future, alternative strategies are being sought. Instead of planting directly in the soil, many growers are now utilising substrate bags to alleviate the risks posed by soil-borne pathogens. Soil-less culture has been growing steadily in recent years and currently around 40% of strawberries produced in the UK are grown using this system. In the last five years peat-based products have been replaced by coir, an arguably more sustainable alternative growing medium. In an effort to advance the sustainable intensification of strawberry production, a commercial-led breeding programme will be intrinsic to the future of the industry. Currently most breeding programmes focus on cultivars for soil production but if the adoption of soil-less systems continues to rise, there is a necessity to promote economic sustainability by developing new cultivars that are adapted to substrate production. By improving efficiency, yield and fruit quality through a new generation of innovative technologies it is envisaged that the whole UK soft fruit industry, from grower to consumer will benefit.

Technical Summary


Planned Impact

The production of more resilient varieties for UK production is key to the continued success of this sector of UK horticulture. By maintaining, or even increasing the degree of self-sufficiency in sustainably grown produce the UK rural economy will be supported. The knock-on health benefits of a more affordable fresh diet will also lead to indirect benefits to the UK.

Through the development of a belowground imaging system, the R&D capability of UK breeding companies and their ability to translate basic science into practical tools will be enhanced. The opportunity to robustly capture complex trait variation has long been a key challenge in plant breeding and accurate measurement techniques will enhance the output from the two breeding companies in this proposal. Globally, these UK breeders will be in a strong position to capture a large existing market, of which many varieties are currently non-UK bred. This increase in royalty share (of a £1.7 billion market), which will be of key benefit to two UK commercial breeding companies, will allow UK competitive advantage to be maximized. A fuller economic analysis is presented in the TSB case for support and associated appendices.

The application of genomics approaches to plant breeding is also of key importance if the massive advances in genotyping and genomic technologies is to be realized in a commercial setting. This project will lead the way in showcasing the translation of basic research into practice and through impact generating activities with the largest soft fruit grower cooperative, effective knowledge exchange between end users and academic researchers will be possible.

Project findings will be communicated through high-impact peer-reviewed papers, communications through the horticultural trade press and by conferences and other outreach activities. Within the consortium, key emphasis has been placed on alerting growers and end users of improved varieties to the economic benefits of more sustainable growing practices.

Through the exploitation plan there is the opportunity for multiple future interactions with other research and industry partners which will further cement the UK's international position in larger research collaborations. Enhancement of UK capability in research through extended links across the supply chain is of key importance, as it allows effective KE between industry and academics in this important area. It also brings international expertise directly to UK companies, allowing development of national capabilities, where currently these are lacking.


10 25 50
Description 'Please refer to (BB/M01200X/2 for details of this award's outcomes.
Exploitation Route These will be taken up by industry for breeding.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Title Crosslink genetic mapping software program 
Description Crosslink is a software program able to create genetic maps from genotype data collected from the progeny of a cross between two individuals. The program is suitable for use with an "outcross" where the two parents do not need to be genetically inbred, and there is applicable to a wide range of plants where inbreeding cannot be used. The program is designed to scale efficiently to handle the large number of genetic markers typically being generated by modern and emerging genotyping technologies. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2016 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact This tool has allowed us to automate the creation of genetic maps using a larger number of markers, and across multiple mapping families, which would otherwise have been extremely time consuming. Researchers at IBERS, Aberystwyth University, and Earlham Institute have also begun using the tool. Our maps will be used as the basis for constructing the cultivated strawberry genome sequence. 
URL https://github.com/eastmallingresearch/crosslink
Description Plant and Animal Genome Conference (San Diego) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presented a poster on my genetic mapping program at a major international conference. I won a travel grant on the basis that my program is likely to be useful for studying plant genomes and helpful for plant breeding.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.intlpag.org
Description RenSeq workshop (John Innes Centre / The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Richard Harrison, Charlottle Nellist and Robert Vickerstaff attended a workshop on the novel gene capture technique known as RenSeq, held in Norwich jointly organised/hosted between The Sainsbury Laboratory, The John Innes Centre and The Genome Analysis Centre (now Earlham Institute). The workshop was attended by UK and international researchers. RenSeq involves capturing and sequencing so called NLR genes from plant genomes using synthesised RNA baits. These genes are some of the most important genes involved in plant disease immunity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.jic.ac.uk/directory/brande-wulff/