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Cranberries. Link to photo information
The American cranberry has changed little in 400 years, but ARS researchers have bred an experimental line with a healthy dose of readily absorbable antioxidants. Click the image for more information about it.

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New Cranberry Packed with Health Features

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
January 8, 2008

Juice drinks, saucy relishes and dried fruit products may one day boast a new cranberry variety with a readily absorbable dose of healthful antioxidants. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and colleagues are using traditional breeding methods to suit up a wholesome new cranberry line with just such a genetic trait.

Plant pathologist James J. Polashock, with the ARS Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory, and Nicholi Vorsa, with the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension at Rutgers University, are collaborating on the project. Both scientists are located at the center in Chatsworth, N.J.

Since brightening up the first Thanksgiving celebration nearly 400 years ago, the typical American cranberry variety has only recently been bred to develop hybrids. The team found an attractive cranberry species from Alaska that is genetically similar enough to the American cranberry to produce fertile progeny.

The Alaskan species is also attractive because some of the fruit's many healthful chemical compounds—called anthocyanins—are glucose-linked. In nature, most anthocyanins are bound to sugars. Those that are bound to glucose sugar are relatively high in antioxidant capacity and are well absorbed in the human gut. In contrast, the anthocyanins found in the American cranberry are mainly bound to other kinds of sugars, so they are less easily absorbed.

The researchers found that, compared to the typical American cranberry's anthocyanins, which are 3 to 5 percent glucose-linked, the anthocyanins in hybrids from the first breeding cross were 50 percent glucose-linked.

The progeny of these crosses deliver two benefits: the proanthocyanidins long known for inhibiting bacterial E. coli from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract, and higher amounts of the potentially well-absorbed antioxidative anthocyanins, according to Polashock. The next step is to move the traits for glucose-linked anthocyanins from the experimental cranberry line into a horticulturally acceptable variety that can be used by growers for market.

Read more about this research in the January 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.