Crag News

AppleBiome: a European project to improve sustainable apple production

The project, funded by the EU's SusCrop programme, will investigate microbiome variability in a unique collection of 600 apple genotypes grown in six European regions.

The apple is one of the most widely consumed and cultivated fruits in the world, but its production faces several challenges such as climate change, pests and diseases, and consumer demand for quality and environmentally sustainable products. To meet these challenges, it is necessary to improve knowledge of the genetic diversity of this species and its microbiome, and to develop new varieties adapted to current and future conditions.

To this end, the AppleBiome project has been launched, a European initiative coordinated by CRAG and supported by the SusCrop programme, an action of the ERA-Net Cofund programme of the European H2020 programme, addressing the theme proposed by the Joint Programme Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI). The AppleBiome project is based on a unique collection of 600 apple genotypes, representing the variability of European germplasm, selected and planted in 2016 in six regions with different agro-climatic characteristics: Poland, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and France.

Since 2017, this collection has been characterised and evaluated to study the interaction between genetics and the environment on aspects such as phenology, yield, fruit quality and disease susceptibility. The AppleBiome project will extend the analysis of this collection by adding a new element: the study of the microbiome, therefore the set of microorganisms that live on the leaves of plants and can influence their health and productivity. In addition, the project will compare the microbiome of multivariety and monovariety plots and assess the effect of different management conditions, such as reduced pesticide use or irrigation, on the microbiome and production.

The results of the project will identify the genetic and environmental factors that determine the composition and function of the microbiome and select the most suitable genotypes for the development of new high-yielding apple varieties with low environmental impact. These genotypes will be used as parents in breeding programmes to produce offspring that are better adapted to more sustainable growing conditions.

The three-year AppleBiome project is coordinated by CRAG and consists of seven academic and industrial partners from five countries: IRTA (Spain), Laimburg Research Centre (Italy), INRAE (France), InHORT (Poland), Better3Fruit (Belgium), SK Alto Adige (Italy), NUFRI (Spain) and NOVADI (France). The project is also supported by Agroscope (Switzerland) as an external partner. Maria José Aranzana, IRTA researcher and co-leader of the Genetics and Genomics of Rosaceae group at CRAG, is the scientific coordinator of the project.

On the 15th of June, the project partners met in Barcelona for the project kick-off meeting, where they discussed the methodologies and research directions to be carried out within the framework of the collaboration, which will allow the implementation of innovations in the breeding of improved apple varieties with more sustainable production.

About the project

Microbiome and genomic analysis in apple germplasm towards broadening genetic resources to breed for resilient varieties (SUSCROP-Agrobiodiversity 2022). Grant PCI2022-135079-2 funded by MCIN/AEI/ 10.13039/501100011033 and by “European Union NextGenerationEU/PRTR”.