Seven years have gone by since the first publication of the strawberry plant's complete genoma (Fragaria vesca), and all the information necessary to understand the thousands of biological processes going on within these plants, became available to the international scientific community. It is not such a long time for the Plant Biotechnology and Pharmacognosy research group at the University of Cordoba, a group that has spent over 20 years working on understanding strawberry defense strategies.
What José Luis Caballero, José Garrido, José Higuera and Juan Muñoz have done is characterize, for the first time, a specific gene family, VQ genes, and explain their direct relationship to protein transcription factors that either activate or block the expression of certain genes related to the stress response that pathogens cause. Thus, they were able to identify part of the strawberry's defense system headquarters, specifying some of the response strategies when under enemy attack.
This is a model used in the study. Credit: University of Cordoba
This characterization performed at a basic level, as in at a molecular level, was published in the journal Scientific Reports, and carries with it an immediate effect on applied research, because it lays out information especially valuable in order to continue progressing in the genetic improvement of such an important plant for the Spanish economy. Not for nothing is Spain the largest producer of strawberries in the E.U. and the sixth worldwide.
The thorough study of this gene family, its classification and the characterization of its behavior in situations of biotic stress - as in stress caused by pathogenic organisms - opens up the possibility of choosing certain genes in order to perform a more in-depth study of their behavior. This could clarify what kind of mechanisms strawberry plants put into action and why on many occasions strawberry plants are not effective in their fight. In order to carry out this study, the research team receives financial support from Excellence Funds by the Andalusian Regional Government and the PRIMA Foundation via the MED-BERRY project entitled "Developing new strategies to protect strawberry crop in Mediterranean countries."