Well-bred strawberries taste sweeter

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A STRAWBERRY by a number of different genes could taste rather sweeter, according to British scientists who have isolated the elements that give the fruit its taste, smell and colour.

A team at the Horticulture Research International in Wellesbourne, Warwickshire,plans to create varieties of the fruit that will taste sweeter and richer and be more fragrant.

But - mindful of the furore over genetically modified crops - they will try to achieve this using conventional plant breeding methods.

They will use modern technology, though, by following molecular markers that indicate which varieties of the fruit produced by crossing have the required flavour genes. Manipulating such genes by natural processes could produce useful fruit more quickly than genetic engineering, suggests Ken Maning, who led the research. "There are at least 280 different compounds involved in the aroma alone," he said.

The key to a sweeter strawberry consists of regulating the production - or "expression" - of a protein that passes sugar into the fruit cells from the plant's phloem, its equivalent of blood vessels.

"The whole basis of fruit ripening is to make it tasty enough to ensure seed disposal," he said. "But if the gene which makes the [sugar-dumping] protein were overexpressed, we could raise the amount of sucrose coming into the fruit, which would result in a sweeter strawberry."