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A high quality Bilberry genome for the benefit of Blueberry growers

A joint team of MBIE Filling the Void and Genomics Aotearoa researchers has sequenced the world's first bilberry genome, which presents opportunities for developing New Zealand's blueberry production.

A BioCultural Notice recognises the rights of Indigenous peoples

What is also special about this project is that for the first time a BioCultural Notice has been added to a gene sequence in Aotearoa.

The BioCultural Notice is a digital identifier that recognises the rights of Indigenous peoples to define the use of information, collections, data, and digital sequence information generated from the biodiversity and genetic resources associated with their traditional lands, waters, and territories.

More information about BioCultural Notices and their importance can be found at

Genomics Aotearoa Researcher David Chagné is part of the Te Tuakiri o te Taonga Catalyst Project funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand which developed the BioCultural Notice and Labels for Aotearoa.

Close relationships between bilberry and cultivated blueberries and cranberries enable understanding of key traits

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) belongs to the same genus that includes blueberries and cranberries. Prized for its taste and health properties, it has provided essential nutrition for Northern European Indigenous populations for centuries.

High concentrations of phytonutrients, including the important purple anthocyanins, are found in both skin and flesh.


Photo: Copyright © The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Limited. All rights reserved for the picture (created by Minna Pesonen)

Unlike its cultivated relatives, bilberry remains largely undomesticated, with berry harvesting almost entirely from the wild. With a lack of human-assisted genetic enhancement it is ideal for genomic analysis, providing comparisons with the domesticated Vaccinium species.

The bilberry genome assembly, sequenced by an international team of researchers, builds on the existing genomic resources and knowledge for other Vaccinium to help understand the genetics underpinning some of the quality attributes that breeding programs aspire to improve.

Bilberry genetic diversity has not been well understood and its placement within the Vaccinium genus is not well established. The bilberry genome will be used as a reference to study genomic diversity in bilberries and provide information on the loci linked to adaptive traits and the phytochemical composition of the berries.

One key difference between blueberries and bilberries is the localisation of anthocyanins, the compounds responsible for the berry’s colour that have antioxidant properties. In blueberries these are restricted to the skin but in bilberries concentrations also accumulate in the flesh. This study analysed the locus for the anthocyanin-regulating transcription factors (MYBA) and identified a complex locus controlling berry anthocyanin composition.

The close relationship between bilberry and blueberry genomes enables comparison to discover the genes responsible for key traits like anthocyanins, which evolved from a common ancestral gene.