Kevin Folta, professor and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida (UF), is studying how different types of light can affect various traits in fruits and vegetables as well as how connecting genes to the traits they carry out in strawberries can decrease the testing time for new varieties.
Folta has studied how light affects plants through biology for over 30 years. He said different lights can send different messages to plants. He now has a light program at UF to study and test how various types of light can affect how a plant grows, takes in nutrients and tastes. Folta said “high value per square foot” is one of the goals for this program to benefit growers by increasing crop yields.
“We can treat plants with red or blue or UV or fire-red or combinations to kind of give the plant instructions on how we want it to grow and develop,” Folta said. These colors send different messages to the plant regarding taste, growth and nutrients. This project has worked in fruits and vegetables of all kinds, he said.
Specifically in strawberry research, UF is focused on gene mapping, which allows researchers to match genes with the traits they carry out in the crop. For example, Folta and his team are interested in genes that carry out traits such as disease resistance and flavor. This can help the researchers take out the genes that are connected with flavors that do not do well in the market and keep the genes that are connected with flavors that are successful in the market.
The strawberry genome program has been an ongoing project. Folta said that in 2011, UF had one of the top laboratories for sequencing the strawberry genome, which allowed researchers to have a list of the genes in the plant. He said the next step was to match the gene to the result it carries out in the plant.
“So now, what we’re interested in is connecting all of the different genes to the traits they control for our growers,” he said.
According to Folta, two of the goals for this project are to target disease resistance and flavor. Connecting genes to their traits is a faster testing method, he said, than creating a cross and then waiting for the plant to fruit.
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