September 22, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

A multinational team of scientists has successfully sequenced the genome of woodland strawberries.

Whilst these aren’t the kind of strawberries you can find in your local supermarket, understanding their genetic code still has huge potential.

Not only are woodland strawberries closely related to their cultivated counterparts, they are also part of the same genetic family as apples, peaches and apricots.

This means that understanding the genetics of woodland strawberries could allow scientists to unlock the secrets of a wide variety of fruits and berries, potentially making them bigger, tastier and more resistant to disease.

Mmmm, strawberries. (Photo Credit: Sigusr0)

Woodland strawberries have a short, simple genetic code, which makes them ideal for gene knock out studies.

These studies aim to ascertain the functions of individual genes by removing them from the strawberry genome.

Professor Wilfried Schwab, one of the scientists who helped sequence the genome, explains: “Woodland strawberries have all the same genes as cultivated strawberries; they just have less copies of each gene.”

Cultivated strawberries have eight copies of each gene, whereas woodland strawberries, like humans, only have two — one from each parent.

Strawberry yields forever? (Photo Credit: No Border Network)

Prof Schwab believes: “Within 5-10 years, we could have genetically modified strawberries with significantly longer shelf lives and considerably improved resistance to both disease and extreme cold.”

Of course, under current EU law, such GM strawberries could not be grown commercially in Europe.

Nevertheless, the research, which was published in the journal Nature, still could have some long-term benefits for EU farmers.

Understanding the strawberry genome could potentially make the centuries-old practice of selectively breeding for desirable traits, such as taste, size and aroma, much more efficient.

As Prof Schwab explains: “Rather than having to first grow all of the strawberries and then decide which ones are best to use for creating the next generation, farmers will simply be able to identify those seeds with the desired genes and use these for future production.”

Such practice would be permitted under current EU regulations, as no genes are being transferred from one organism into another.