Dr. Yi Wang Joins the Department

Yi Wang is an assistant professor with a research focus on potato and vegetable sustainable production. The goal of her research and extension program is to conduct science-based applied research and collaborate with the potato and vegetable growers and processors to improve the resource use efficiency and sustainability of vegetable cropping systems in Wisconsin. Her major research areas are:

  • Investigate new irrigation technologies to improve the water-use sustainability of vegetable cropping systems;
  • Develop production recommendations for new varieties with higher water and nitrogen use efficiency;
  • Develop useful growth modelling tools to predict crop yield, quality, water balance, and nitrogen balance.

Yi got her B.S. in Biological Science from Nanjing Agricultural University in China, her Ph.D. in Potato Physiology from UW-Madison. She worked as an assistant professor at the Kimberly Research and Extension Center, University of Idaho before rejoining the Department of Horticulture at UW-Madison.

Winemaking In Wisconsin

How Discoveries And Accidents Led To Winemaking In Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s wine industry is modest in scale, but has roots as old as the state itself. A Hungarian immigrant named Agoston Haraszthy planted the state’s first vineyard in 1846 on the east bank of the Wisconsin River and founded the community that would become Sauk City. He headed west three years later, establishing the famous Buena Vista Vineyard in Seminole, California, and became known as the father of Californian winemaking. In Wisconsin, Haraszthy’s vineyard lands would later become the site of Wollersheim Winery.

The wines produced in Wisconsin’s unlikely climate are the result of centuries of selection, cultivation and hybridization of many grape varieties, said Amaya Atucha, a fruit crop specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and assistant professor of horticulture at UW-Madison. With only 80 to 180 frost-free days across different parts of the state in an average year, Wisconsin’s cold climate and soil pH is not particularly hospitable to many wine grapes. Atucha discussed the history and difficulties of viticulture in the state in a July 8, 2015 talk for the Wednesday Nite @ the Lab lecture series on the UW-Madison campus, recorded for Wisconsin Public Television’s University Place.

“It’s very challenging to grow grapes here,” Atucha said. “And this has been a lot of science and a lot of discoveries and accidents that have taken us through this journey to be able to have Wisconsin wine.”

Variants of a grape species first cultivated in western Asia thousands of years ago, Vitis vinifera, are grown to produce 99 percent of the world’s wine today. While male and female flowers grow separately on wild grapes, Vitis vinifera was bred to have what are called perfect flowers, which have reproductive structures for both sexes. This morphology greatly increases fruit yield, supplying enough juice to produce wine.

Many grape species are native to the Americas, including Vitis riparia, Vitis berlandieri and Vitis labrusca. Wine production did not begin in the Western Hemisphere until the 1500s, though, when Spanish conquistadors and missionaries planted vineyards in hospitable regions using cuttings of Vitis vinifera. The lower fruit yields of North American grape species proved unfavorable for wine production, and the flavors of their wines discouraged cultivation for that purpose.

“For me, coming from Chile, never having these grapes… [i]t just tasted very chemical, like this foxy taste,” Atucha said of her first experience with juice made from Concord grapes, which is cultivated from Vitis labrusca, and left her believing the taste was artificial.

“Afterwards, they took me to a vineyard where there was Concord grapes and they gave me some of the grapes to taste, and I was like ‘wow, it tastes just like the juice,'” she said.

Much of North America is inhospitable to Vitis vinifera, leading to failed attempts at establishing vineyards in the British colonies along the Atlantic Seaboard during the 1600s and 1700s. European grapes faltered in the climate, and they were also more susceptible to insects and disease American grape species had evolved to resist.

It was not until the 1740 discovery of the Alexander grape in Philadelphia that North American wine production became feasible. A natural hybrid, this variety combined the hermaphroditic flowering traits of Vitis vinifera with the hardiness of a native species. The new, viable variety sparked an interest in hybridization, resulting in grapes capable of flourishing and producing wine in Wisconsin a century later.

“So the solution to the problem was actually not to try to make the vinifera grow, but to find a grape that would survive, that would yield enough, and that would make wine decent enough that they could sell and that people could drink,” Atucha said.

 

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Key Facts

    • Modern viticulture has its roots in the soils of the southern Caucasus Mountains, a region that now includes portions of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and northern Iran and Iraq. The first evidence of wine production dates to around 7,000 years ago, when the burgeoning viticulturists of the Neolithic era found particularly fruitful Vitis vinifera vines, grew these grapes along the shores of the Caspian and Black seas, and began fermenting the juice. Viticulture spread to Mesopotamia, Egypt and on to regions around the Mediterranean.
    • Over time and through trade, the rise of the Roman Empire and the growth of Christianity, Vitis vinifera eventually found a new, favorable climate in the high pH soils of southern Europe. Romans advanced grape cultivation and wine production, but the monks of the medieval Catholic Church developed many of the techniques used in the present day.
    • While Native Americans fermented fruits like apples and other plants to produce alcoholic beverages, there is no archeological evidence to suggest grapes were used to produce wine, despite the fruit’s prevalence in North America.
    • In the 1620s, King James I declared wine production mandatory in Virginia. He sought to supplement supplies from France, Italy and Spain by meeting the growing British taste for wine with a domestic product, so as to lessen dependence on imports from these rival nations.
    • Several North American wild grape species contributed to the hybridization of Vitis vinifera. Vitis riparia, found from Canada to Texas and between the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, is cold hardy and resistant to fungus and disease. Vitis berlandieri, native to central Texas and eastern Mexico, grows well in high pH soils and aids in breeding of grapes for a variety of soil types. Vitis rupestri, a nearly extinct species, lent disease and fungal resistance to some modern varieties. And Vitis labrusca is a vigorous vine known as the Northern Fox Grape; its cold hardy variants have a distinct flavor, the Concord grape the most famous among them.
    • New Englander Ephraim Bull created the Concord grape, named for his hometown in Massachusetts, after testing millions of seedlings and selecting based on desired traits. The grape’s distinct, sour taste makes it a popular choice for jams, jellies and juices, but aficionados generally consider it an undesirable flavor for wine.
    • The eventual success of wine grape cultivation in the United States led to the export of North American hybrids to Europe in the mid-1800s. European botanists sought to study and collect these varieties, but unintentionally introduced diseases and pests like the grape phylloxera, devastating the continent’s grape vines. Nearly 90 percent of European vineyards collapsed, and wine production fell to 20 percent of previous levels. Although hybrids were the source of the invasive species, they were also key in ending the 20-year die-off; Vinis vinifera was grafted on to North American root stock, maintaining the properties of European varieties with the resistance of imported hybrids.
    • Scientists play a role in contemporary viticulture. While working for a University of Minnesota grape breeding program, Wisconsin native Elmer Swenson developed a number of cold resistant varieties that also produce good wine, releasing many to the public upon his retirement in 1980. More recently, the Northern Grapes Project is a collaboration between a dozen Midwestern and Northeastern universities that seeks to develop new varieties and growing techniques that work well in colder climates.

WisContext produced this article as a service of Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and Cooperative Extension.

Link to Original

Breeding Potatoes for More Calcium

Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato—and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Neither consumers at grocery stores nor chip and fry manufacturers want these low-calcium defects. In addition to the obvious cosmetic issues, these potatoes are more likely to rot.

Most farmed varieties of potatoes have naturally low levels of calcium. So researchers at the USDA-ARS and University of Wisconsin-Madison, including Shelley Jansky, John Bamberg and Jiwan Palta, looked to wild potatoes. Their purpose: to breed new potato cultivars with high calcium levels.

Many wild potato relatives are still present in South America. Their presence means growers’ potato plants in that region often exchange genes with wild species.

“That’s a way they continue to evolve as the climate changes or as disease and pest patterns change,” says Jansky. “But in the U.S. we have removed our potatoes from that environment. We have to breed new genes in from these wild relatives when we want to improve our cultivars.”

These wild relatives are an invaluable resource for scientists across the country.

“If you go down there and drive along the roadside you can see these weedy, wild plants growing along the roads and fields,” says Jansky. “Whenever we have looked for any trait in wild potato species, we have been able to find it.”

And so it was with searching for a high-calcium potato. The team found a wild potato with almost seven times as much calcium as typically grown varieties. The next job was to isolate the calcium trait. Jansky and her colleagues interbred the high- and low-calcium potatoes. The resulting generations showed a molecular marker—a pattern in the plant’s natural DNA. This pattern led researchers to the plant’s calcium trait.

“Finding this marker will allow us—and other breeding programs—to make faster progress in breeding potato plants with high tuber calcium content,” says Jansky. “This has been difficult and time-consuming in the past. You have to grow all the populations, harvest tubers, and then analyze the tubers for the trait you are looking at—in this case, tuber calcium levels. And that’s a long, laborious process.”

A typical breeding program grows and assesses up to 100,000 seedlings every year. It takes 10 to 15 years to release a particular variety of crop plant. However, the process simplifies with known molecular markers.

“We can collect DNA from seedlings and check for these molecular markers,” says Yong Suk Chung, the first author of the study. “If you have the marker present, then you select those seedlings and save a tremendous amount of time and labor.”

Source:  www.potatogrower.com

 

Seed to Kitchen

Plant breeders partner with chefs for tastier produce

Have you noticed that more and more restaurants are featuring great-tasting, locally sourced foods on their menus? Now, through a UW–Madison horticulture initiative called “Seed to Kitchen,” chefs on the culinary cutting edge are working with plant breeders to grow produce with specific flavor characteristics their customers will love. –

Antique Apples

Autumn is just around the corner, and instead of lamenting the end of summer, many Wisconsinites embrace cooler weather with fall activities.

One favorite excursion around the state is apple picking, which goes hand-in-hand with cider, donuts and pie. Many Wisconsin pick-your-own orchards and farm stands showcase “antique” or “heirloom” apple varieties, which have been passed down through generations of growers after being found from a chance seedling. Antique apples can have unusual flavors, textures, and aromas, and usually come with an interesting back-story too. Many are of U.S. or even Wisconsin origins.

In recent years, antique or heirloom varieties have become more popular at farmers’ markets and pick-your-own orchards, as consumers are searching for apples that are essentially different from those offered by big supermarket chains. This search for a “different” kind of apple is not only driven by the lack of choice and poor quality of apples offered by superstores, but also by a change in consumer preferences that are a consequence of increasing interest and concern regarding where and how fruit is grown.

Many of these rarer varieties can be found at many Wisconsin orchards and local direct markets, but it may take a little searching to get past the rows of Honeycrisp. Hundreds of varieties of antique apples are available — this list is meant as a starting point only.

Gravenstein is one the first varieties to ripen in the apple season. It originated in Denmark in 1669. The fruit is irregularly shaped with broad red stripes and a sweet-tart flavor. It’s great for eating fresh, or for making into sauces or cider. Ripens late July to early August.

Northfield Beauty originated in Vermont in the early 1800s. The fruit is medium-large, with a tart flavor extremely well suited for pies and sauces. Ripens in late August.

Duchess of Oldenburg is a cold-hardy plant, producing tart red apples, best used for making pies or sauces but also good for eating. A great early-season options, it can be found even in the northern parts of Wisconsin. Originating in Russia in the 1700s, it is naturally resistant to many diseases, reducing the need for pesticides. Ripens in late August.

Chenango Strawberry was discovered in the eastern United States in the early 19th century, and is renowned for its rich apple flavor and aroma, and beautiful mottled appearance. The skin and flesh is soft and juicy. Ripens early September.

Summer Rambo is a tart, crisp, juicy apple that originated in France in the 1500s. The fruit is greenish-yellow with a red blush. It’s good for both eating and for sauces. Ripens in early September.

Holstein Cox has large fruit with an intense sweet/tart flavor with intense citrus and pineapple aroma, and is good for eating or cooking. It is a relative newcomer, being developed in Germany in the early 1900s. Ripens in early September.

Court Pendu Plat was first described in France in the 1600s, but is thought to have been brought there much earlier during the time of the Roman Empire. It has a dense texture, and balance of sweetness and acidity, making it excellent for cider and sauces, but also tasty fresh. Ripens in early September.

Wealthy makes a good eating apple with a mellow, sweet flavor. Having originated in Minnesota in 1868, it is very cold-hardy. Ripens in mid-September.

Pink Pearl is not only a novelty, with bright pink flesh underneath a smooth yellow skin, but is also a flavorful, tart, juicy and crisp apple. A suggested use is to make rosy-pink applesauce. This variety originated in California in the early 1900s. Ripens in mid-September.

Wolf River originated in central Wisconsin, and is an old-time favorite around the state. The large apples are primarily used for baking — supposedly one apple makes one pie! Ripens in late September.

Reinette Gris produces medium-sized sweet, crisp and dry fruit, with a red blush. The trees are very hardy and fruit keep well. It originated in France in the 1600s. Ripens in late September.

Egremont Russet, like other russetted apples, has lost popularity recently to the smooth shiny varieties generally showcased in grocery stores. However, despite its rough appearance, this variety is full of unique flavors, which have been described as nutty, smoky, or with anise undertones, which combined with a pear-like smooth texture makes for a one-of-a-kind apple. It originated in England in the 1800s. Ripens in late September to early October.

Northwestern Greening originated in Wisconsin in the late 1800s. It is the predominant apple-pie apple of the north, but is too tart for eating fresh. Ripens in October.

Arkansas Black is a deeply colored, crisp, and flavorful apple. For best flavor, store at least a month before eating; it can be stored up to eight months in refrigeration. Ripens in October.

Winesap is an old-timer favorite, with high sugar content, a crisp texture and deep red color. This variety originated in the US in the 1800s. Ripens in late October.

Newtown Pippin has a distinctive flavor, and firm, crisp flesh. The skin is light yellow-green with just a slight red blush. It was developed on Long Island, New York in the 1700s. This apple is excellent for eating fresh or for making cider. Ripens in late October.

Black Oxford produces a dark purple, almost black skinned fruit with tart, aromatic flesh. It originated in Oxford, Maine in the 1800s. The fruit keeps well in storage. Ripens in late October.

Source:  Wiscontext, September 23, 2016 http://www.wiscontext.org/picking-holstein-cox-and-other-antique-apples-wisconsin-orchards

Janet van Zoeren is a fruit crops associate with the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Amaya Atucha is a fruit crop specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and UW Fruit Program, and an assistant professor in the UW-Madison Department of Horticulture. This article is adapted from an item originally published in Wisconsin Fruit News, Volume 1, Issue 9, a publication of the Fruit Crops Team 

Breeding for Flavor

On a sticky weekday morning in August, a new restaurant called Estrellón (“big star” in Spanish) is humming with advanced prep and wine deliveries. All wood and tile and Mediterranean white behind a glass exterior, the Spanish-style eatery is the fourth venture of Madison culinary star Tory Miller. Opening is just three days away, and everything is crisp and shiny and poised.

Chef Miller takes a seat with colleagues Jonny Hunter of the Underground Food Collective 2016-09-13_8-47-52and Dan Bonanno of A Pig in a Fur Coat. The chefs are here to lend their highend taste buds to science, and they start to banter about tomato flavor. What are the key elements? How important are they relative to each other?

Despite their intense culinary dedication, these men rarely just sit down and eat tomatoes with a critical frame of mind. “I learned a lot about taste through this project,” says Hunter. “I really started thinking about how I defined flavor in my own head and how I experience it.”

This particular tasting was held last summer. And there have been many others like it over the past few years with Miller, Hunter, Bonanno and Eric Benedict BS’04, of Café Hollander.

The sessions are organized by Julie Dawson, a CALS/UW–Extension professor of horticulture who heads the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative (formerly called the Chef–Farmer–Plant Breeder Collaborative). Her plant breeding team from CALS will note the flavors and characteristics most valuable to the chefs. Triangulating this with feedback from select farmers, plant breeders will get one step closer to the perfect tomato. But not just any tomato: One bred for Upper Midwest organic growing conditions, with flavor vetted by some of our most discerning palates.

“We wanted to finally find a good red, round slicer, and tomatoes that look and taste like heirlooms but aren’t as finicky to grow,” says Dawson at the August tasting, referring to the tomato of her dreams. “We’re still not at the point where we have, for this environment, really exceptional flavor and optimal production characteristics.”

Nationwide, the tomato has played a symbolic role in a widespread reevaluation of our food system. The pale, hard supermarket tomatoes of January have been exhibit A in discussions about low-wage labor and food miles. Seasonally grown heirloom tomatoes have helped us understand how good food can be with a little attention to detail.

But that’s just the tip of the market basket, because Dawson’s project seeks to strengthen a middle ground—an Upper Midwest ground, actually—in the food system. With chefs, farmers and breeders working together, your organic vegetables should get tastier, hardier, more abundant and more local where these collaborations exist.

Please continue reading this story on the Grow magazine website.

Note: The Seed to Kitchen Collaborative is one of the projects that will be featured at the upcoming Horticulture Showcase on Thursday, Sept. 15, and there are still tickets available to a dinner event featuring the work of the Collaborative that will take place immediately after the showcase.

 

Farm to Flavor dinner will feature plant breeding efforts

Farm to Flavor is a signature dinner experience and celebration of Wisconsin food that will be held on Thursday, September 15, 2016 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Mendota Room inside Dejope Hall. It brings together the plant breeders, farmers, and chefs responsible for creating a new local cuisine. These co-creators encompass the motto that food is made at the intersection of seed, farm, and kitchen.

Taste the results of collaborative plant breeding in small plates from Madison’s highly acclaimed chefs including, Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective, Tory Miller of I’Etoile, Dan Bonnano of Pig in a Fur Coat and Eric Benedict of Café Hollander. Guest speaker Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library will kick off a dinner discussion about the intersection of crop varieties, culture and art. Questions about plant breeding, farming and food systems are welcomed throughout the dinner.

Prior to the dinner, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., a free plant-breeding showcase held at Allen Centennial Garden will give attendees the opportunity to meet leading plant breeders responsible for developing fruits and vegetables adapted for Wisconsin’s organic farms. While sampling the results, attendees will learn how collaborative plant breeding can increase productivity and the profitability of regional organic farms.

The cost to attend the dinner is $35 in advance and $40 the day of the event. Register athttp://bit.ly/2bh7dtv.

For more information, contact Julie Dawson at dawson@hort.wisc.edu or (608) 609-6165.

Atucha awarded Baldwin Grant

The Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment competitive grant program is open to UW–Madison faculty, staff and students. Grants of up to $120,000 and mini-grants of up to $4,000 are awarded.

Ira Baldwin, a longtime UW teacher, researcher and administrator, served as dean of the Graduate School and the College of Agriculture and as vice president for academic affairs. Ineva Reilly Baldwin taught and served in the university administration as assistant dean of women and associate dean of the College of Letters & Science. Their endowment is one of the largest gifts ever received by UW–Madison.

Building a Comprehensive Network of Fruit Growers to Improve Sustainable Production of Fruit Crops in Wisconsin
Christelle Guédot, assistant professor of entomology, and Amaya Atucha, assistant professor of horticulture

Fruit production in Wisconsin contributes over $400 million to the state economy and encompasses large-scale commercial growers, small-scale growers, as well as homeowners. The goal of the project is to develop new avenues for effectively delivering time-sensitive information on environmentally sound pest management practices and sustainable fruit crop production to all fruit growers, with special attention to underserved communities in the state of Wisconsin.

Carrot genomes

Carrot genome paints picture of domestication, could help improve crop 

Carrot color arrangement

Carrots derive their color from pigment compounds called carotenoids. Orange carrots are colored by alpha- and beta-carotene, while red carrots get their color from lycopene, yellow from lutein and purple from anthocyanin. These pigments also provide the nutrition found in carrots. PHOTO COURTESY OF PHIL SIMON, UW–MADISON, USDA-ARS

Sometimes, the evolutionary history of a species can be found in a fossil record. Other times, rocks and imprints must be swapped for DNA and genetic fingerprints.

The latter is the case for the good-for-your-eyes carrot, a top crop whose full genetic code was just deciphered by a team of researchers led by University of Wisconsin–Madison horticulture professor and geneticist Phil Simon. Simon is also a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, which helped fund the work. The study is published today in the journal Nature Genetics.

It tells a story of how the carrot has been touched by domestication and breeding practices and influenced by environmental and geologic change, and it fills in a family tree of relatives that otherwise appear distinct. It also reveals how carrots have become so good at accumulating carotenoids, the pigment compounds that give them their characteristic colors and provide them with their nutritional strength.

Photo: Phil Simon

Phil Simon

“The carrot has a good reputation as a crop and we know it’s a significant source of nutrition — vitamin A, in particular,” Simon says. “Now, we have the chance to dig deeper and it’s a nice addition to the toolbox for improving the crop.”

The knowledge gained from the study could also lead to the improvement of similar crops, from parsnip to the yellow-fleshed cassava, a staple food throughout much of Africa.

“This was an important public-private project, and the genomic information has already been made available to assist in improving carrot traits such as enhanced levels of beta-carotene, drought tolerance and disease resistance,” says co-author Allen Van Deynze, director of research at the University of California, Davis’ Seed Biotechnology Center. “Going forward, the genome will serve as the basis for molecular breeding of the carrot.”

Carrots have a long history as a domesticated root crop. The first cultivated carrots appeared 1,100 years ago in Central Asia. These carrots were — unlike their white wild ancestors — purple and yellow. The canonical orange carrot appeared later, in Europe in the 1500s, providing at the time an aesthetic subject for German and Spanish art. Even before domestication, wild carrot seeds showed up in 3,000- to 5,000-year-old primitive campsites in Germany and Switzerland.

The study cannot answer why the first crops were purple and yellow, though it can verify that it is not because of flavor. The genes for color and the genes associated with preferred flavors are not connected. But that colored carrots became popular is fortuitous: The pigments are what make them nutritious, and orange carrots are the most nutritious of all, Simon says. Carrots are the richest crop source of vitamin A in the American diet.

The new study reveals how that orange color happens. “The accumulation of orange pigments is an accumulation that normally wouldn’t happen,” says Simon, one of just a few carrot researchers around the world, along with another UW–Madison scientist, Irwin Goldman, who was not part of this study. “Now, we know what the genes are and what they do.”

Carrots are the richest crop source of vitamin A in the American diet. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient. PHOTO COURTESY OF PHIL SIMON, UW–MADISON, USDA-ARS

Carrots are the richest crop source of vitamin A in the American diet. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient. PHOTO COURTESY OF PHIL SIMON, UW–MADISON, USDA-ARS

The research team used the Nantes carrot — a bright orange form of the vegetable named for a city in France — to assemble and analyze the full genetic sequence, peering into the machinery that drove the carrot’s evolution, and the bread crumbs left through time.

The carrot genome contains more than 32,000 genes arranged among nine chromosomes, which code for pest and disease resistance, colorful carotenoids and more. Carotenoids, like alpha- and beta-carotene, were first discovered in carrots.

The researchers uncovered features traced to distantly related plant species, from grapes and tomatoes to kiwis and potatoes. Carrots more recently split from lettuce and they are in the same family as spice crops, like parsley and fennel.

The researchers also sequenced 35 different types of carrots to compare them to their wild ancestors. They showed carrots were first domesticated in the Middle East and Central Asia, confirming the Vavilov Center of Diversity theory, which predicts cultivated plants arose from specific regions rather than randomly.

They also learned that sometime between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods — roughly around the time dinosaurs went extinct — carrots picked up genetic advantages common to other plants of the era that allowed them to thrive.

Additionally, the study confirmed a gene called Y is responsible for the difference between white carrots and yellow or orange ones, and that a variation of it leads to the accumulation of carotenoids.

“They could keep their crops ‘clean’ from a patch of wild carrots growing 50 meters away by choosing only the purple or yellow ones. Or maybe it was the food fad of the 10th century …”

Phil Simon

But it also identified a new, previously unknown gene that contributes to the accumulation of the colorful compounds. Both genes are recessive, which means two copies of each are needed for carotenoids to build up in the plant, which is actually a defect in a metabolic pathway that appears to be related to light-sensing.

Plants derive their own nutrition through light-sensing, or photosynthesis, but roots like carrots aren’t normally exposed to light and do not need photosynthetic pigments like carotenoids. “It’s a repurposing of genes plants usually use when growing in light,” says Simon.

It appears these genes were inadvertently selected for by early growers, and Simon suggests it may have simply been to aid early domesticators — likely to have been women — differentiate between wild carrots and the plants they intended to grow.

“They could keep their crops ‘clean’ from a patch of wild carrots growing 50 meters away by choosing only the purple or yellow ones,” says Simon, who jokes: “Or maybe it was the food fad of the 10th century, with orange in the 16th.”

Global carrot consumption quadrupled between 1976 and 2013 and over the last 40 years, breeding has led to more nutritious carrots with the selection of ever more intensely orange crops. In fact, carrots have 50 percent more carotene today than they did in 1970.

While most Americans are not deficient in vitamin A, it is considered an essential nutrient and deficiency is a problem in some U.S. communities and around the world. While the study may not solve the problem, it does highlight the opportunity carrots present to improve health and economic outcomes in other nations.

“Globally, we hand out vitamin A capsules, but why not have people grow their own?” Simon asks. “In one square meter you can grow a single crop of carrots per year to feed up to a half dozen adults. You can grow half now and half in six months to give you a sustainable source of vitamin A and a valuable crop in the marketplace.”

The study also reflects a shift in how plant breeders operate, by taking advantage of new technologies to answer basic questions about cultivated crops.

“It tells us things about the genome we expected but didn’t know before,” says Simon. “Each crop has a story to tell.”

The study also includes co-authors from Michigan State University and around the world, including Poland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, China and Argentina. It was funded by several seed companies and the carrot industry, as well as the National Science Foundation, the Polish National Science Center and the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education. The authors declare no competing financial interests and Simon explains that industry funds make the work possible.

Reposted from: http://news.wisc.edu/carrot-genome-paints-picture-of-domestication-could-help-improve-crops/#sthash.le7Xxay2.dpuf  by Kelly April Tyrell

 

Organic approach to improving carrots

Organic carrots are coming into their own. About 14 percent of U.S.-produced carrots are now classified as organic, making carrots one of the highest ranked crops in terms of the total percentage produced organically. With production and demand increasing in recent years, organic-carrot growers need help deciding which varieties to grow. Some varieties perform well as a conventional crop, but not so well under organic conditions. While conventional growers also can fumigate to control nematodes, bacterial diseases and fungal pathogens, organic growers don’t have that option.

That’s why the work of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticist Philipp W. Simon and his colleagues is so important. Simon, who is the research leader of ARS’s Vegetable Crops Research Laboratoryin Madison, Wisconsin, is leading the five-year Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project that is ultimately aimed at providing information and helping breeders develop carrots that are tastier, more nutritious and better equipped to combat weeds, diseases and pathogens. It is funded with a National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative grant.

The researchers are growing 36 carrot varieties in organic and conventional fields at four locations and comparing them for flavor, productivity, appearance, color, disease resistance and other key traits. Partners include researchers from Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of California-Riverside, Washington State University and the Organic Seed Alliance. The field trials are in Madison, Wisconsin, Pasco, Washington, West Lafayette, Indiana, and Bakersfield, California.

Carrots grow relatively slowly, and that means that faster-growing weeds are a major problem. Some large-scale organic producers in California estimate that they spend thousands of dollars per acre to weed carrot fields. A priority highlighted by the research is the need for carrots that can produce their large, above-ground leafy “tops” quickly to outcompete weeds for sunlight and moisture.

Organic growers also are more interested than conventional growers in producing carrots with novel shapes and colors—purple, red and yellow—that will attract organic consumers, according to Simon. When it comes to nutrition and health, orange carrots are always a good choice because they are high in vitamin A, an essential nutrient. But changing up your carrot color scheme once in a while might not be a bad idea, he says. Purple carrots have powerful antioxidants. Yellow ones are a good source of lutein, which could reduce the risk of macular degeneration, an all too common eye problem. Red carrots are high in lycopene, a nutrient associated with reducing the risk of certain cancers.

The researchers are still evaluating the 16 named carrot varieties and 20 scientific lines selected for the project. That includes assessing them for flavor, a major issue for consumers. When the market for baby carrots started to take off years ago (baby carrots account for about half of all the fresh carrots consumed in the United States), consumers came to expect carrots to taste good, and growers were quick to adapt, according to Simon. “That message has come through clearly. Flavor is a priority because if people don’t want to eat carrots, they’re not going to buy them.”

Dennis O’Brien, Agricultural Research Service

reposted from Vegetablegrowersnews.com