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Microsatellites Have Major Benefits for Berry Research

By Laura McGinnis
March 9, 2009

Good things often come in small packages, so it's not surprising that microsatellite genetic markers developed by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have major benefits for berry research. The markers are being used throughout the United States for research on blueberries and cranberries.

Microsatellites are collections of short, repetitive, non-coding DNA sequences that can be used to compare species and varieties. Useful microsatellites show considerable sequence variation among individuals. This variation can be used to track genetic diversity and greatly accelerate breeding for improved agronomic, quality and nutritional traits. They have been used to enlarge genetic maps, identify berry cultivars and establish relationships between berry varieties.

In a study partially supported by the Northwest Center for Small Fruit Research, Nahla Bassil, a plant geneticist with the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Corvallis, Ore., has worked with geneticist Jeannine Rowland at the ARS Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Research Unit in Beltsville, Md., to generate several DNA sequences for blueberries.

The scientists developed microsatellite genetic markers from those DNA sequences, and established that these markers could be used to identify not only blueberry varieties, but cranberry and rhododendron varieties as well.

A different type of DNA-based marker had previously been developed for cranberries by plant pathologist James Polashock, formerly with Rutgers University and now with the ARS Plant Sciences Institute in Beltsville. Bassil and Polashock are collaborating to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each marker system for use in identifying cranberry varieties.

In related work, Rowland and Bassil are collaborating on an international effort to develop more genetic markers for blueberries, to be used for improving traits such as cold hardiness and fruit quality.

Read more about ARS research with state and university partners in the March 2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.