University of Florida strawberry breeder Vance Whitaker is part of a multi-state effort to develop better tasting fruit, including strawberries.
University of Florida strawberry breeder Vance Whitaker is part of a multi-state effort to develop better tasting fruit, including strawberries.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a group of scientists from 14 universities, including the University of Florida, a $10 million, five-year grant to improve crops that are members of the rose family.

The award from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative actually covers two projects, according to a news release.

The first, RosBREED, involves 35 researchers who will develop and use modern DNA-based tools to develop new cultivars with better quality, taste and disease resistance. The crops—all members of the Rosaceae family—are apple, blackberry, peach, pear, rose, strawberry, sweet cherry and tart cherry.

The project will be led by Amy Iezzoni, a Michigan State University horticulture professor. University of Florida strawberry breeder Vance Whitaker will be the statistical genetics team lead and will have a key role in developing and implementing DNA-based tools in strawberry breeding.

“Employing these tests will add a new level of precision to our breeding program,” Whitaker said in the release. ”We hope to breed better new varieties with the combinations of traits that growers, marketers and consumers all want.”

The second project will build on the online genome database that already exists for Rosaceae. The database will give researchers access to information that will help them develop improved varieties by identifying locations of specific genes.