Australian consumers may be able to enjoy a broader selection of berries following the research of Nuffield Scholar and horticulturist Karen Brock, who aimed to find ways to assist Australian plant breeders take new berry varieties to market more quickly.
Ms Brock received a Nuffield Scholarship to investigate how traditional breeding programs can integrate new technologies to reduce the time taken from experimentation through to commercial release of new berry varieties.
Together with her family, Ms Brock owns Brocklands, a diversified horticultural business, in Tasmania’s north-east, supplying plants and tissue culture material to the soft berry fruit and truffle industries.
The family also operates a tissue culture laboratory and raspberry breeding program.
Australia’s $680million berry industry has grown significantly in recent years, and with targeted research and development is set to further increase in popularity as a safe and quality food group for consumers at home and abroad.
As part of her scholarship, Ms Brock travelled around the world to seek out the latest in scientific studies and certification schemes being used to manage new berry varieties, with visits to the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and Europe.
Ms Brock said her research found the development of gene technologies would both challenge and build upon decade-long propagation techniques for berries, which have traditionally included cuttings, seed germination, grafting and budding to rootstocks.
‘‘It’s often a long journey for plant breeders,’’ Ms Brock said.
‘‘In the case of blueberries, it can take up to 24 years for new varieties to hit supermarket shelves.
‘‘However, more understanding of genomic sequences will mean that plant breeders can spend less time experimenting with seedlings and more time focused on bringing berries to commercialisation.’’
Ms Brock also found advances in genetic technologies are leading to the reclassification of berries and impacting how patents, breeders’ rights and other forms of intellectual property are managed.
‘‘Better understanding of the techniques and genetic advances is important to plant breeders, but also to the wider supply chain, as we seek to eliminate bottlenecks within a growing berry industry.
‘‘For plant breeders, discussion is under way about how new technologies and certification practices will impact on existing patents, with many years of hard work having gone into the development of these varieties.’’
As part of her report, Ms Brock said a robust biosecurity system should underpin genetic science to help ensure a stronger, more sustainable berry industry.
‘‘There are more plants, products and people moving around the world than ever before, so ensuring all new genetic materials meet state and national biosecurity protocols is critical,’’ she said.
‘‘Currently the importation of certain materials, such as blueberries and raspberries, requires an average of 18 months in a government quarantine facility, which can be held back by size and capacity limitations.’’