Wild Strawberry Secrets Revealed


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Woodland strawberry. Image courtesy of H. Zell, Wikimedia commons

In a collaborative effort involving 74 researchers from 38 research institutes, scientists have produced the full genome of the woodland strawberry. The research appeared in Nature Genetics. Drs. Asaph Aharoni and Avital Adato of the Weizmann Institute’s Plant Sciences Department were the sole Israeli scientists participating in the project, but they made a major contribution in mapping the genes and gene families responsible for the strawberry’s flavor and aroma.

Aharoni has, for a number of years, been investigating the metabolic pathways of ripening, in which the substances that give the fruit its flavor and aroma are produced. He was one of the first to use biological chips (i.e., microarrays) to analyze genetic networks – including the ones involved in creating these substances – and he has also conducted a comparative analysis of these genes in wild and cultivated plants. Now that the full genome of the wild strawberry plant is available for research, he is able not only to conduct deeper and broader investigations but to shed new light on some of his past findings. For instance, a computerized analysis of the woodland strawberry genome revealed that an enzyme that Aharoni had previously characterized belongs to a relatively small family. This enzyme family is responsible for the production of a large number of aroma substances that provide the fruity notes in the strawberry’s flavor, and the finding helped clarify the means of production of these substances.
Aharoni hopes that, among other things, the newly sequenced genome will help scientists understand how to return the flavors and aromas that have been lost over years of breeding in the cultivated cousin of the wild strawberry. The intense, concentrated aroma and flavor of the woodland strawberry are, he says, something to aspire to.

Dr. Asaph Aharoni's research is supported by the Minna James Heineman Stiftung; and Roberto and Renata Ruhman, Brazil. Dr. Aharoni is the incumbent of the Adolfo and Evelyn Blum Career Development Chair of Cancer Research in Perpetuity.