Blueberry genomics

BlueberryClusterHighbush blueberry is a high-value, specialty crop.  Once established, an acre of blueberry bushes can produce around 7,000 pounds of berries at a profit of around $3,500, according to a University of Georgia Agricultural Extension bulletin. Depending on conditions, a 100-acre blueberry field at the peak of its productivity can yield around $300,000 profit per season.

Thanks to high profit potential and increasing consumer demand, blueberry acreage has been steadily increasing in the United States since the early 1900s, when USDA botanist Frederick Coville and New Jersey agriculturalist Elizabeth White developed the first commercial berry varieties from wild plants.

Blueberries are popular because of their flavor, but also because of their reputation as a “superfood,” meaning: they may provide health benefits above and beyond basic nutrition. Blueberries are a rich source of antioxidants and other beneficial compounds – called “bioactives” – that may provide important benefits to human health. Identifying genes involved in synthesis of bioactive compounds could enable the breeding of berry varieties with enhanced health benefits.

From 2009 to 2014, we worked with colleagues from NC State University, UNC Charlotte, and USDA to sequence and annotate a highbush blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum, one of two major species important in blueberry agriculture. The Loraine Lab role was to perform transcriptome sequencing and profile gene expression dynamics during berry fruit development and ripening.

This project was funded by the office of Steven Leath, during his tenure as Vice President of Research, University of North Carolina General Administration.

To find out more, see:

  • Gupta V, Estrada A, Blakley I, Reid R, Patel K, Meyer M, Andersen S, Brown A, Lila M, Loraine A (2015) RNA-Seq analysis and annotation of a draft blueberry genome assembly identifies candidate genes involved in fruit ripening, biosynthesis of bioactive compounds, and stage-specific alternative splicing. GigaScience 4: 5 PMID: 25830017
  • Data analysis source code repository at BitBucket.org. Use this to repeat analyses presented in the paper. The code repository also contains analyses that space and time constraints did not permit us to publish, including new and improved cluster analysis of differentially expressed genes. Blueberry genome annotation QuickLoad site. (These data are formatted for visualization in Integrated Genome Browser.)
  • Slides from a presentation given at Plant Animal Genome Conference, Jan 2014