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New Zealand joins blueberry genome initiative

Genomics Aotearoa and Plant & Food Research are involved in a US$12.8 million USDA grant to improve the fruit quality of blueberry and cranberry.

The four-year project is part of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which funds multi-year, multi-institutional collaborative projects.


Blueberries, photo by Elisabeth Joly

Led by North Carolina State University, the project involves researchers from seven US academic institutions, three USDA research centres and three international research partners, in addition to the Genomics Aotearoa scientists working at Plant & Food Research.

Known as the VacciniumCAP project, the goal is to create new genetic and genomic resources to support the selective breeding of blueberry cultivars with improved fruit quality attributes. The strong academic and industry partner support from this new initiative will foster new collaborations and help to transfer genomics tools to expand the research behind fruit quality.

Dr David Chagné, who is heading the project for Genomics Aotearoa, says it is very exciting to be part of the USDA VacciniumCAP project. “There are many genomics tools still to develop for blueberry and polyploid species so this is a great opportunity for Genomics Aotearoa to collaborate with some top plant geneticists in the US.”

Ultimately, this will lead to developing DNA tests that can help select new cultivars with improved fruit quality attributes. In the longer term, those areas of berry improvement will aim to improve production efficiency, handling and processing, productivity and profitability.

About the research


Blueberries, photo by Lisa Fotios

The primary focus areas for blueberry and cranberry crop characteristic improvements are taste, quality and appearance including fruit disease resistance; and enhanced phytonutrient content.

The aim of the VacciniumCAP project is to study which and how fruit characteristics contribute to improve fruit quality and the genetic factors controlling these characteristics. However, genome analysis in polyploid species - species with multiple copies of genes - such as tetraploid blueberry is complex.

Genomics Aotearoa’s contribution to the project will be to develop a pan-genome for blueberry, including for tetraploid Northern Highbush varieties, as part of its High Quality Genome programme. In collaboration with the VacciniumCAP partners, Genomics Aotearoa is evaluating new sequencing and bioinformatics techniques for assembling a high standard, chromosome-level, biologically accurate, near gapless and haplotyped whole genome assembly of blueberry.

The focus is on improving best practice methods for whole genome haplotyping in polyploid species, which will greatly contribute to associating DNA and trait variation, and to ultimately improve the breeding of new types of blueberry.

Blueberry is used as a model by Genomics Aotearoa for developing bioinformatics methods, which will then be implemented for other polyploid species.

Our team

  • Dr Susan Thomson, Plant & Food Research
  • Dr Roger Moraga, Tea Break Bioinformatics
  • Dr Sara Montanari, Plant & Food Research
  • Cecilia Deng, Plant & Food Research
  • Roy Storey, Plant & Food Research
  • Dr David Chagné, Plant & Food Research
  • Dr Richard Espley, Plant & Food Research
  • Dr Toshi Foster, Plant & Food Research