Native to North America, the american cranberry is largely endemic to acidic soils of northeastern United States and southeastern Canada (Vander Kloet, 1983), but it is cultivated in a broad range of temperate climatic conditions. Domesticated in the mid-1800s (Eck, 1990), genetic improvement of cranberry through breeding has been limited. Some of the most widely grown cultivars are native selections or first-generation breeding selections released over 60 years ago. For example, ‘Early Black’ and ‘Ben Lear’ were selected from the wild in 1843 and 1901, respectively, and are still in use (Dana, 1983). Genetic improvement of the american cranberry was initiated in the 1930s, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the agricultural experiment stations of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, initiated a breeding program largely directed toward development of “false-blossom” resistance (Eck, 1990). The program released six cultivars in the 1950s and 1960s, derived from first-generation breeding and selection cycle crosses. More recently, through additional breeding and selection cycles, cultivars with improved fruit quality (e.g., fruit anthocyanin content) and productivity have been released (Vorsa, 2010, 2012).
The North American cranberry industry faces many challenges in the 21st century, including increasing disease and insect pressures, likely exacerbated by a warming climate and increasing restrictions on insecticide and fungicide use. A major threat to the industry is fruit rot. Cranberry fruit rot is caused by a complex of fungi from at least 12 genera (Oudemans et al., 1998). In New Jersey, 25% fruit loss is common, even with multiple, carefully timed fungicide applications beginning during mid-bloom. Without fungicides, losses can reach 100%. Furthermore, fruit rot is becoming a serious problem in other major growing regions, including Wisconsin (McManus, 1998, 2006), where over half of the nation’s cranberry crop is produced, and Massachusetts (University of Massachusetts, 2012). Moreover, due to consumer concern regarding food safety, environmental impacts, and worker safety, stricter pesticide use regulations are being implemented (Byrne, 2012). For example, California’s Proposition 65 includes on its list of potential carcinogens one of the principal fungicides used in cranberry fruit rot control, chlorothalonil (California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, 2015). There are also concerns over pending changes to the European Union’s maximum residue levels that could effectively eliminate chlorothalonil use on fruit and fruit products destined for Europe (European Commission, 2015).
Throughout the world, fruit crop-breeding programs are increasingly targeting disease resistance (Byrne, 2012), including the Rutgers/NJAES cranberry breeding program. Current cultivars are high-yielding and widely adapted, but lack sufficient fruit rot resistance (FRR). Fruit rot resistance would be especially valuable for the northeastern U.S. cranberry growing region.
Toward this objective, a diverse cranberry germplasm collection was evaluated for field fruit rot incidence during 2003–04 at the P.E. Marucci Center in Chatsworth, NJ with the goal of identifying sources of resistance (Johnson-Cicalese et al., 2009). Under severe disease pressure, accessions having some level of resistance were identified. Initial DNA fingerprinting using sequence characterized amplified regions (SCAR) markers (Polashock and Vorsa, 2002) identified four genetic types, Budds Blues-type, Holliston-type, US89-3, and ‘Cumberland’, suggesting diverse sources of resistance existed in the germplasm. However, the resistant accessions did not have adequate productivity. These accessions were used in crosses with the ultimate goal of introgressing FRR into productive backgrounds. The objectives of this study were to: 1) determine heritability of field FRR from an array of crosses using midparent–offspring regression; 2) further genetically define the resistant germplasm using SSR markers; and 3) determine the relationship between resistance and productivity.
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