New Zealand's Plant & Food Research is exploring a new blueberry variety that combines the taste and growing characteristics of blueberries with the high-colour bilberry.
With NZ$5m funding over five years from the New Zealand government through the MBIE Endeavour Fund, Plant & Food Research will breed bilberry-blueberry hybrids suited to growing in New Zealand conditions.
The bilberry is a Northern European berry with dark blue-red flesh and high in anthocyanins, that is difficult to cultivate and easy to damage during harvest.
“Research suggests consumers want fruits with novel characteristics, such as colour, and with added health benefits,” says programme leader Dr Richard Espley. “Blueberries have high concentrations of anthocyanins in their skin which gives them their dark blue appearance. Breeding a hybrid with bilberries, a cousin to blueberries with a natural red-blue flesh, should allow us to develop a new crop that is coloured throughout the fruit. A new type of tasty, full colour berry would provide New Zealand with a unique product in the marketplace.”
Plant & Food Research scientists will also investigate which genetic pathways control flesh colour in fruits, which could be used to inform breeders of other fruits with high-coloured flesh.