A new platform housing data from over 100 apple varieties could shave years off of the breeding process and enable data-driven assessments of how to boost the health benefits of America's favorite fruit. This new analysis platform developed by a team of Ohio State University scientists combines the genetics behind specific traits and information on hundreds of chemical compounds -- from sugars and acids to a host of antioxidants -- in the fruit that help make apples a healthful food.
By showing relationships between genetics and compounds in apple fruits known as phytochemicals, the platform has potential to take some of the guesswork, and time, out of the breeding process: It typically takes about seven years to get from mating parent varieties to the first taste test of a new kind of apple, and it could take decades to create a completely new cultivar. Additionally, complementary research on phytochemicals that may provide health benefits could give researchers a head start on studies to confirm which compounds offer the best chance to develop a more nutritious apple, said study author Jessica Cooperstone, assistant professor of horticulture and crop science at Ohio State.
"It's an approach that allows us to better understand how apple genetics affect the production of many compounds in apple fruit. We wanted to help develop tools that make this process simpler and allow people to use data to make decisions about the apple breeding process," she said. Cooperstone specializes in chemical compounds called metabolites that make apples and tomatoes nutritious. She and her colleagues focus on figuring out how to create and grow the most healthful versions of these crops as possible.
The research was published online Sept. 1 in the journal New Phytologist.
The 124 apples analyzed in the study included common varieties such as Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji and Golden Delicious as well as wild apples and prospective varieties being evaluated by Midwest growers.
Genome-wide analysis of each apple enabled identification of genetic markers associated with metabolites that influence traits like flavor, disease resistance and texture. The researchers used high-resolution mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance to detect phytochemicals in the apples in a "global" way -- an approach called untargeted metabolomics.
The team then took on the larger challenge of integrating all the data to determine genotype-metabolite relationships that could guide apple breeding decision-making and inform nutrition studies of links between specific chemical compounds and health benefits. As part of the integration, the researchers assembled the data in a way that showed every genetic marker that had an association with production of at least one phytochemical.
From here, the team plans to use the data to get a better understanding of health-promoting compounds of interest and employ biotechnological approaches that could speed up flowering and fruit production in apple trees.
(Source: Agriculture and Food News, ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com)