RosBREED Seeks To Improve Genotypes In Tree Fruit

Apples, cherries, peaches, strawberries … Industry stakeholders, Extension professionals, scientists … Genomics, genetics, plant breeding …
These were the ingredients in the first meeting of a new research project on genetic improvement of rosaceous crops, funded by the USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI). The SCRI program has been featured in this column and this publication previously, but now we can discuss more than its potential impact on specialty crop research and Extension. We can see exciting, groundbreaking projects actually addressing issues of top priority to U.S. producers and processors.

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This project, referred to as RosBREED (pronounced “Rose-Breed”), will generate and apply DNA-based information to speed the development and commercialization of scion cultivars for Rosaceae crops. It includes more than 60 participants and is led by Amy Iezzoni, Michigan State University (MSU) and Cameron Peace, Washington State University (WSU). Initial focus crops are apples, cherries, peaches, and strawberries, but it has implications for almonds, caneberries, pears, roses, and beyond.

Bottom line — RosBREED will accelerate the development and commercialization of improved genotypes benefitting not only producers and processors, but the consumer, as well, since the 12 project breeding teams will target traits like fruit size, texture, flavor, and storability. Furthermore, some of the technologies being developed, like genetic markers, statistical tools and bioinformatic databases, could apply broadly across all crops. Scientists leading that effort are Nahla Bassil (ARS-Corvallis, OR), Eric van de Weg (PRI, Netherlands) and Dorrie Main (WSU). Ensuring that these tools are appropriate for real world plant breeding is the responsibility of Jim Luby (University of Minnesota) and Gennaro Fazio (ARS-Geneva, NY).

This is certainly not the first time plant breeders have targeted these traits, but is the first time such a broad, integrated, multi-disciplinary, multi-regional approach has been undertaken. The project scope is breathtaking, but it’s right in line with the intent of the SCRI, created by USDA to provide funding resources of a sufficient magnitude and duration to transform research and Extension activities.

Charting A Course

RosBREED will receive around $7 million in federal funding over fours years, matched by another $7 million from non-federal sources. This leveraging of funds is a welcome feature to industry stakeholders and a validation that RosBREED goals align with their priorities.

Project scientists represent a range of U.S. universities, USDA-ARS locations, and a number of international labs. The 12 breeding programs in apple, cherry, peach, and strawberry represent every significant production area in the U.S.

While this is exciting itself, the project takes it several steps further by incorporating a team skilled in Extension and socioeconomics, led by Cholani Weebadde (MSU) and Chengyan Yue (University of Minnesota), which will provide real marketplace perspectives from throughout the supply chain and directly inform the breeding teams along the way.

As specialty crop industries survey the landscape for the upcoming decade, we can do so confident that SCRI projects like RosBREED will chart a course that develops and delivers science-based research information improving our efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability. You can track this course in this publication, and I urge you to regularly check the website for the latest. It’s moving quickly!