Pitless cherry varieties are the new frontier of breeding

The next edition of Macfrut (from May 3 to 5, 2023) will host the Nursery and Variety Innovation Fair, which will be an opportunity to take stock of the situation in the world. In this regard, we welcome a series of interviews with some experts in research on the different species of fruits. After the articles dedicated to innovations on strawberries, apples and kiwis, today we talk about cherries with Stefano Lugli, scientific coordinator of the new exhibition in Rimini.

Trade press reports of early results from ongoing biotech research in the US and UK caused a stir. Several start-ups supported by multinationals in the sector and some international research institutions are investing heavily in the breeding of cherries, thanks to techniques of assisted evolution (ATE).

Fresh Plaza (FP) : Where are we ?
Stefano Lugli (SL) : Thanks to new genetic improvement technologies based on genome editing and cisgenesis, seedless and probably also stoneless cherry varieties will be widespread in the near future. In addition, it will be possible to grow crack-resistant varieties, plants that are resistant to diseases and able to adapt to ongoing climatic changes. With AET, improved varieties, identical to traditional varieties, will be obtained at a much lower cost than with conventional breeding: this is due to faster and, above all, more precise breeding techniques.

PF : And in Europe?
SL : The situation is changing. As long as TCAs are not admitted into European legislation, those nostalgic for the cherry of yesteryear, such as supporters of Slow Food or the Italian Cherry Association, will be able to rest easy and continue the fight against wind turbines for the preservation of biodiversity or give a prize to whoever spits a cherry pit the farthest. I would gladly give this award to those who create true innovation.

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PF : Okay, but let’s come back to earth. What’s new under the sun ?
SL : Professor Quero Garcia said it well at ICS 2022. Assisted breeding methodologies give a big boost to those working in traditional breeding. Several molecular markers have been identified for important traits such as cherry size, color, fruit firmness and crack tolerance. They are technical tools that have become indispensable for those working in the field of cherry breeding today. Especially since many of yesterday’s and today’s goals in cherry breeding have only been partially achieved.

PF : What new varieties should growers focus on?
SL : According to data from the CPVO, the Community Plant Variety Office, an average of 10 patents are filed each year for new varieties of cherry trees; in Europe alone, we are at 150. What is lacking is a preliminary evaluation, super partes, which should precede the marketing of new varieties. It often happens that a genetic innovation is presented as revolutionary, the panacea for all ills. Often this is not the case, and the losers are unfortunately the growers, who are the first to be attracted by these varietal chimeras.

The Nursery and Varietal Innovation Fair in Macfrut includes five meetings dedicated to breeding activities for strawberry, kiwi, table grape, apple and cherry. After an introductory presentation by internationally renowned experts, the floor will be given to the creators and distributors of innovation. Companies interested in presenting their new varieties can contact the secretariat of the organization (references below).

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Pitless cherry varieties are the new frontier of breeding