Clemson University plant scientists are part of the largest USDA grant awarded to improve fruit crops. Federal officials and stakeholders provided $14.4 million for RosBREED.

The project seeks to revolutionize the translation of DNA-based information into practical applications for crops in the important botanical family Rosaceae, or rose family.

After grasses and peas, Rosaceae is thought to be the third most economically important crop plant family. It includes apples, pears, almonds, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and cut roses.

The Specialty Crop Research Initiative project will run four years and involve scientists from 11 U.S. institutions, including land grant universities and USDA labs, along with six international partners from the Netherlands, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, France and the United Kingdom.

“Being a peach breeder and part of the RosBREED team is very exciting,” said Clemson researcher Ksenija Gasic. “RosBREED focuses on bridging a gap between genetics and genomics technologies and their practical application in breeding programs with the ultimate goal of delivering fruit that is desirable by consumers and more profitable for fruit growers. It’s all about delivering the best product to the final consumer using the latest techniques guided by stakeholders’ needs and consumer preferences.”

Clemson will receive $400,000, with half from Michigan State University, the grant administrator, and the other half from non-federal sources.

“Clemson’s funding share will help address critical issues in development of improved peach cultivars suitable for southern growing conditions and train the next generation of peach breeders in combining traditional breeding techniques with DNA-based tools,” said Gasic.

Greg Reighard, professor of horticulture at Clemson, is an international authority on fruit-tree genetics and peach rootstocks.

“Applying these molecular technologies to field breeding provides a faster and more efficient means to incorporate disease resistance and desirable or novel fruit-quality traits without genetically modified organisms or needing hundreds of acres of land for field screening of crosses.”

RosBREED also involves significant educational and outreach activities. As a so-called Coordinated Agricultural Project, it is mandated by the USDA to promote collaboration; open communication and exchange of information; reduce duplication of effort; and coordinate activities among individuals, institutions, states and regions.