Interest in the anthocyanin pigments of black raspberry is not limited to recent studies showing their potential health benefits. Black raspberry has a long history of use not only in jams and other processed products, but also as a natural colorant/dye because of its high anthocyanin levels. Research on the anthocyanin pigments and fruit chemistry properties of black raspberries, and other Rubus L. fruit, dates back at least to the 1950s. Lee and Slate (1954) examined some of the chemical properties of three cultivars to understand what differences made some better than others for freezing or use in other processed products. However, since the early 1900s, black raspberry production in the United States has seen a marked decline that many attribute to disease pressures and a lack of cultivars with sufficient resistance. At the same time, breeding progress has slowed dramatically as a result of an apparent lack of genetic variability in available elite germplasm (Ourecky, 1975). Despite successes and progress in the early years of black raspberry germplasm improvement, Ourecky (1975) considered a lack of genetic diversity in black raspberry to be a major limitation for breeding. He found it nearly impossible to distinguish existing cultivars from each other and said that no future progress would be made in black raspberry breeding without the use of germplasm from other species. These limitations have been recognized by many over the last century and attempts to use other species to introduce desirable traits to black raspberry have been made (Drain, 1956; Ourecky and Slate, 1966; Slate and Klein, 1952). However, there is no record of interspecific hybridization leading to any new cultivars until the release of ‘Earlysweet’ in 1996, which has Rubus leucodermis Douglas ex Torr. & A. Gray in its background (Galletta et al., 1998).
Weber (2003) examined genetic diversity in R. occidentalis using random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) markers. RAPD markers were scored in 14 cultivars and two wild selections and as a whole showed 81% similarity in polymorphic markers. More than half of this variability was accounted for by ‘Black Hawk’, ‘Cumberland’, ‘John Robertson’, and the two wild selections from New York. The remaining 11 genotypes in this study had a collective marker similarity of 92%. Weber asserted that this supports the idea that many cultivars that originated as chance seedlings were probably from open-pollinated fruit of previously named selections. Nybom and Schaal (1990) used restriction fragment length polymorphisms to document genetic diversity in wild black raspberries along a 600-m stretch of roadside in Missouri and found 15 unique genotypes among 20 plants sampled. These results suggest that there may be a great deal more genetic diversity in wild populations than in current cultivars.
Although the level of genetic diversity in black raspberry cultivars has been well documented (Weber, 2003), studies regarding the degree and heritability of phenotypic variation are lacking. In addition, previous research and breeding efforts have been focused in the eastern United States, whereas commercial production is centered in Oregon. At present, the black raspberry processing industry is entirely reliant on a single cultivar, Munger, developed and released in the 1890s (Hedrick, 1925). ‘Munger’ has served the industry surprisingly well, but growers are experiencing increasing problems resulting from high disease pressure from Verticillium wilt (Verticillium albo-atrum Reinke & Berthier), anthracnose [Elsinoe veneta (Burkholder) Jenk.], and a number of viruses affecting yield and longevity of plantings. The yield, which has averaged only 2845 kg·ha−1 over the past 5 years, is low and needs to be increased for production to remain economically viable (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007a). In addition, the average life of a planting is only three or four growing seasons (Halgren et al., 2007). This is a drop from an average of seven cropping seasons, over 50 years ago, on 36 farms surveyed by Kuhlman and Mumford (1949) who noted that the life of plantings historically had been even longer than their survey showed.
Although the four major anthocyanins found in black raspberry have been known for many years (Barritt and Torre, 1973; Harborne and Hall, 1964; Nybom, 1968; Torre and Barritt, 1977), recent studies using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and mass spectrometry (MS) have identified a wider range of pigments in the fruit than was previously known. Although these studies did not identify the genotypes that their samples came from, small amounts of three anthocyanins, pelargonidin-3-rutinoside, pelargonidin-3-glucoside, and peonidin-3-rutinoside, which had not been previously identified in black raspberry, were detected (Tian et al., 2006; Wu and Prior, 2005). Other work has shown black raspberries to be particularly high in total anthocyanin (TACY) content as well as total phenolics (TP) and antioxidant capacity (Moyer et al., 2002; Wang and Lin, 2000). Although there is a great deal of new research in the antioxidant properties of black raspberries, there is still very little known about genotypic differences and heritability for these traits. Heritability of anthocyanins, total phenolics, and antioxidant properties have been studied in red raspberry (Rubus idaeus L.) (Connor et al., 2005a, 2005b), but similar studies for black raspberry are lacking.
New cultivars, which are adapted to the biotic and abiotic stresses of the Pacific northwestern United States, may help expand the market and improve the financial return to growers. However, to develop these cultivars, it is essential to gain a basic understanding of the feasibility of selecting and breeding for the traits of interest from the variation present in available germplasm. The objectives of this study are to gain insight into the performance of black raspberry genotypes as parents in the development of new cultivars adapted to the Pacific northwestern United States and to gain an understanding of the variation present in available genotypes for general plant performance and important fruit chemistry traits. Estimating the quantitative genetic parameters involved in these traits will allow us to determine whether there is a need for greater genetic diversity and the potential for progress from selection in breeding new cultivars with improved traits as well as help us to use the available parents more efficiently in the breeding program.
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Connor, A.M. McGhie, T.K. Stephens, M.J. Hall, H.K. Alspach, P.A. 2005a Variation and heritability estimates of anthocyanins and their relationship to antioxidant activity in a red raspberry factorial mating designJ. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 130 534 542 10.21273/JASHS.130.4.534
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