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Testing process produces 100% reliability

How DNA fingerprinting can save your reputation as well as your investment

Everyone has heard of DNA fingerprinting from watching crime series on TV, but how can this be used in the fresh produce industry?

Ross Newham and Ed Dobbs from UK based East Malling Research explained what this technology can mean for the industry.

The application for this technology in horticulture also works on the principle that every variety is genetically different. If a breeder is breeding a new variety, he will cross two strawberry plants, for example, and end up with hundreds of seeds for potential use, each one of those seeds is genetically different. When the 'best' seeding is chosen following trialling it is propagated vegetatively or clonally. So when he has a great new variety all plants must be propagated from that single mother plant. Genetic fingerprinting allows growers to know that they are working with this specific variety.

"A sample of a variety can be logged in the system at EMR and cross referenced at any time," explains Ross Newham. "Fruit breeders earn their money from the royalties gained on the plans propagated from their original seedling and then sold to growers, so if a propagator or another breeder was to take the seeding and sell under a different name and claim it as their own the original breeder can cross reference it to prove it was their variety."

"This process is not just used to resolve disputes in court, but its also used by companies for quality control to confirm that they are using the right plants, as thousands or even millions are grown each year and there is the possibility that they can be innocently incorrectly labelled. In one recent example from 200 samples only one was flagged as incorrect," according to Ed Dobbs.

Apples and pears are sourced from all over the world to be supplied to, among others, the big retailers, if the shipment is wrong the importer not only looses a lot of money but also his reputation with the retailer. "There was a recent case where the importer doubted if the variety supplied was actually the variety which was ordered as it didn't look or taste like it. Tests were done at EMR and it was confirmed that it was indeed a different variety of apple," explained Dobbs.

In another case one grower found a particular raspberry variety was not proving to be as profitable as had been promised, and he doubted if the plants had been genuine. The plants were tested and proven to be genuine so it was probably the propagator or the the grower who was using the wrong propagation methods.

"These few examples show that there are many uses for this technology," states Newham. "When you think that a strawberry variety takes 5-8 years to develop, raspberry 8-12 years and a new apple variety as much as 25 years, breeders really need to protect their long-term investments."

The testing process produces 100% reliability when comparing two samples can be done very quickly, sometimes within 48 hours. Generally there is a week or two turnaround time and bigger orders can take up to a couple of months. The cost is also surprisingly low especially considering the loss of business or loss of reputation which can be involved.

This technology, just like the rest is changing quickly. Robots are now being used to for DNA extraction making the process much faster.

EMR has a growing collect of samples, at present: 2500 apple, 550 pear, 100 each of cherry, raspberry and strawberry. The collection is not just European varieties but contains samples from around the globe.

For more information:
Ed Dobbs
East Malling Research
Tel: +44 1732 523728
Email: [email protected]

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