Antioxidant compounds absorbed from our diet are thought to have a role in preventing chronic diseases that result from oxidative damage. Berry fruit have high levels of antioxidants, and further increases in antioxidant activity (AA) might be possible through breeding. We determined the AA, total phenolic content (TPH), and fruit weight in 16 blackberry and hybridberry (Rubus L.) cultivars harvested in New Zealand and Oregon in 2002 and 2003, to assess genetic and environmental variation. Both AA and TPH varied significantly between years within location, but not among cultivars or between locations per se. However, cultivar interactions with both location and year within location contributed to variation in both variates. In contrast, both cultivar and location contributed to variation in fruit weight, but years within location did not. However, the cultivar × year within location interaction was significant for this trait. Variance component distributions confirmed that cultivar and location effects together contributed little (<20%) to the total variation in either AA or TPH, while cultivar × environment interactions accounted for >50% of total variation in these traits. Cultivar and location effects together contributed ≈70% of the total variation observed in fruit weight. Phenotypic correlations were significant between AA and fruit weight (r = -0.44), and between TPH and fruit weight (r = -0.51). When adjusted for fruit weight, analyses for AA and TPH demonstrated that cultivar effects approached significance (P = 0.06) and accounted for ≈25% of total variance, while location effects accounted for none. Although the cultivars in this study had diverse interspecific backgrounds, utilization of various Rubus species in blackberry and hybridberry breeding is not uncommon, and our results demonstrating significant cultivar × environment interaction for AA and TPH should be applicable to breeding for high AA genotypes.
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