UF scientists study genes behind strawberries' flavor and aroma

UF scientists study genes behind strawberries' flavor and aroma

UF scientists study genes behind strawberries' flavor and aroma

University of Florida (UF) scientists have found the genes behind several aromatic chemicals that enhance the taste of strawberries.

As with many fruits, the genes that control aroma and flavor are connected, so these findings will help UF/IFAS researchers Vance Whitaker and Seonghee Lee as they study the sources of the unique aroma in strawberries.

“Finding the sources of a strawberry’s smell gets complicated. Aroma comes from more than 100 chemicals, so studying the genetics can become byzantine,” said Whitaker, Professor of Horticultural Sciences at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center. 

Whitaker and Lee are co-authors of a new UF/IFAS study on strawberry flavor. Zhen Fan, now a post-doctoral researcher in Whitaker’s lab, led the study as part of his doctoral dissertation in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. 

For the newly published study in the journal New Phytologist, a team of scientists found the genes behind several dozen aromatic chemicals and the regulators that turn the genes on as the fruit ripens.

“Finding the genes that bring out the aroma is a big step forward in understanding the genetics of flavor,” Whitaker said. “With this knowledge, we are developing tools such as DNA markers to breed more efficiently for flavor.”

In the study, they harvested more than 300 types of strawberries with different scents and then measured the chemicals from each. They also sequenced DNA of each of the approximately 100,000 genes in a given strawberry. 

UF/IFAS strawberry scientists already use DNA markers in seedlings to test some genes that give strawberries their flavor. That means even before they plant the strawberries, scientists know the fruits taste good. Whitaker and his team keep the ones with the best flavor and get rid of the rest. 

“Findings from this new study will allow us to do this for many more genes,” Whitaker said. “New strawberry varieties with better flavor will benefit the public, but it will also benefit Florida growers by giving them an edge in the market as they compete with growers in Mexico.”

 

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