Coloured kiwifruit just the start

By Owen Hembry

Kiwifruit lovers will be like kids in a chinese gooseberry store as DNA research is released for breeding fruit with new colours, flavours and health properties.

Researchers at HortResearch and listed biotech company Genesis Research and Development yesterday publicly released the world's biggest collection of kiwifruit DNA sequences.

The collection of more than 130,000 gene sequences would cover characteristics including flavour, colour, shape, vitamin content, ripening and storage life.

Acting chief executive Bruce Campbell said HortResearch was looking for the concept of super-fruits.

"Where it's not just one thing that we're looking to improve but a whole set of things which is to do with the appearance, that taste, the colour, the convenience and the health attributes as well, and roll all those into new varieties that really do get that price premium."

The work to identify the gene sequences - which took eight years and cost about $30 million - plus research into its use in breeding programmes proved New Zealand's world leadership in kiwifruit science, he said.

"Now, by sharing the database with researchers worldwide, we will be able to gain even further knowledge through collaborations."

HortResearch scientist William Laing said the gene sequences would speed the development of new varieties.

"If breeding a new fruit with a specific trait is like finding a needle in a haystack, then [marker-assisted selection] is like having a metal detector," Laing said.

Marker-assisted selection breeding uses traditional crossing techniques to create new varieties which are assessed for commercial potential by searching the DNA for genes linked to desirable traits.

Laing said HortResearch's breeding programme with exporter Zespri produced thousands of seedlings each year.

"Without [marker-assisted selection], we would have to plant out each of those seedlings, wait years until they bear fruit and then assess which plants we wanted to commercialise or use for further breeding."

HortResearch had a collection of 23 species of kiwifruit, while many more existed in its native China, Laing said.

"We're now better placed than ever to unlock some of that natural resource and deliver it to consumers."

Zespri sold 98 million trays of kiwifruit worth $1.16 billion in the year ending March 31, with 92.4 million trays sourced in New Zealand.

Zespri Gold kiwifruit was developed with HortResearch and sold 22.4 million trays. Zespri new products innovation leader Bryan Parkes said the science was a great fit with a natural breeding strategy.

"This new molecular insight into kiwifruit, coupled with time-honoured breeding techniques, offers the perfect combination of innovation and tradition while ensuring customers that Zespri kiwifruit really are nature's best."

* More than 130,000 kiwifruit gene sequences have been publicly released.
* Genetic data will help breed new fruit varieties including colour, flavour and shape.
* Exporter Zespri sold 98 million trays of fruit worth $1.16 billion in the year ending March 31.

- NZ Herald

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