Strawberry shortcuts: Decode DNA to cut crop chemical use

Strawberry shortcuts: Decode DNA to cut crop chemical use »Play Video

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Fragaria Vesca.  

That's not exactly a household name among Oregon plants.

But the secrets of life scientists are decoding inside the DNA of the woodland strawberry could be key to unlocking better berry crops in Oregon.

Oregon State University researchers and U.S. Department of Agriculture plant biologists are sequencing the DNA genome in wild strawberries.

It's taken 2 years for the research to take root.  

Scientists say the bottom line here is breeding crops that can resist more diseases.

Dr. Kim Hummer is director of the USDA Plant Repository Center near Corvallis.

"We would not have to grow strawberries with so many chemicals," she said of the possible outcomes of the research. "We would not have to fumigate."

Researchers compare this to tracking all the parts in a car and making them fit together.

"Similarly, we try to sequence or try to find the whole genome," explained researcher Pankaj Jaiswal of OSU, "and then try to find individual parts of the genome that actually contribute to the functioning of how a plant works."

And this is not just for fruit.

How about nuts?

Eastern Filbert Blight "is a devastating blight that's attacking the crops, hazelnut crops in the U.S.," said OSU plant molecular biologist Todd Mockler, "and is coming into Oregon."

Why is this experimentation and the research so important - and why should consumers care about what's happening?
"We all eat," Mockler said, "and improving agriculture is really critical."

An international team of 70 researchers took part in the strawberry genome project, 13 of them from Oregon State. 

News about the OSU research was just published in the journal "Nature Genetics."