Europe recognises New Zealand expertise in apple breeding

Auckland 3 June 2009

New grant looks to develop red apples for warmer climates.

Scientists at Plant & Food Research have received funding to encourage science collaboration with Spanish and Italian researchers.

The main aim of the research is to develop understanding of apple colour development in high temperature environments, such as Southern Europe. This will assist in the breeding of new cultivars that enable growers to produce superior quality, red skinned apples.

The research programme has received a total of NZ$126,000 under the European Commission's new Marie Curie International Research Staff Exchange Scheme (IRSES) programme in conjunction with the New Zealand Government. The funding will allow scientists from Plant & Food Research, Spain's Institut de Recerca I Technologia Agroalimentaries (IRTA) and Italy's Fundazione Edmund Mach - Istituto Agrarie San Michele all' Adige (FEM-IASMA) Research Centre to travel between the three institutions for extended periods of time to further existing apple breeding and genomics research collaborations.

The research programme will identify the specific genetic controls required for red colour development in apples under high temperature conditions, and how this is regulated by both temperature and growing conditions. The aim is to develop genetic markers which will allow breeders to screen seedlings at an early stage of development and select those which possess the right genetic profile to produce red skinned apples.

Plant & Food Research scientist David Chagné says current cultivars of apples grown in areas with warm days and cool nights, such as Central Otago, are more likely to have consistent colouring on the fruit.

"Through this collaboration, we can build a better understanding of how colour development is controlled and how we can ensure apple trees reliably produce fruit with as much red colouring as possible in regions with warmer climates. This funding will accelerate our existing research programmes, allowing a multidisciplinary team of scientists from all three institutes to work together more successfully."

Andrew Granger, General Manager Breeding and Genomics, says there are many benefits to breeding apples with a consistent red colour.

"There are many health benefits linked to eating fruit, and to increase the amount of fruit people eat to recommended levels we need to develop new cultivars that produce tasty, flavoursome apples that look good and people want to buy. With predicted rising global temperatures, the knowledge generated by this research programme will be imperative in future-proofing New Zealand's horticultural economy."

Under the scheme, IRSES is providing funding to cover costs for scientists from the two European institutes to travel to New Zealand, and the New Zealand Ministry for Research Science and Technology funds Plant & Food Research scientists' travel to Europe.

Emma Timewell
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8692
Mobile: +64-21-2429 365

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