Researchers test Chilean strawberries for market potential

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Researchers test Chilean strawberries for market potential

The Chilean strawberry or Fragaria chiloensis is a white-colored fruit with red spots and an aroma more intense than that of the standard market option. The fruit's characteristics make it quite expensive and the berry can sell for up to US$24 a kilo.frutilla-chilena

Chilean strawberry cultivation does come with difficulties, however, which have discouraged grower interest.

Universidad de Talca's Dr. María Alejandra Moya explained the Vegetable and Biotechnology Institute's project to make this potential cash crop feasible.

"We began to work on Chilean strawberries in 2007 thanks to financing from a program called PBCT-Anillo ACT-41. And last year we got resources through a new project funded by the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT)," she said.

"Interest in working on this breed came from historical reports. It stood out as a native species with large size and white-pink coloring, an intense fruity aroma and high sweetness. It has been cultivated for years by the Mapuche who know how to manage the fruit on a family farm."

The white strawberry is considered the mother of Fragaria x ananassa or the Garden Strawberry, Moya added.  The Garden Strawberry variety is currently the most cultivated worldwide and is noted for its resistance to adverse conditions.

"The species shows good resistance to pathogens and to abiotic stress conditions like soil salinity and low temperature," she said.

Despite these characteristics, the Chilean variety has short flowering and post-harvest periods limited to a couple of weeks a year. In contrast, the period for traditional strawberries can reach eight months.

"We have been investigating certain quality aspects of Chilean strawberries. We have identified the volatile compounds that give the fruity aroma and how they are synthesized. We have made progress in tolerance of this breed for devastating pathogens like Botrytis cinerea which causes gray rot," she said.

"The exotic pink-white color proved to be the product of an interesting gene regulation process that is highlighted in this strawberry. Additionally, the level of molecules with antioxidant power and anticancer capacity are growing in this fruit, which could allow for health-conscience marketing."

To achieve market success, Moya said it will be extremely important to elongate the fruit's life and provide small farmers with the chance to enter international markets.

"There are significant challenges to be addressed for the Chilean strawberry. Strawberries in general are very perishable, with a shelf life of only a few days," she said.

"In the case of Chilean fruit, the situation is even more critical because it becomes soft more quickly. We have found a group of proteins that contribute to the process and disassemble the cellular wall."

Moya added that the team will continue working to define the fruit's characteristics to extend shelf life.

"We are dedicated to deciphering how the fruit develops and to regulating the maturity process so that we can conserve fruit quality. We hope to develop a more durable fruit with great sensory qualities," she said.

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