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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Research project: Improving the quality of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) using a molecular breeding approach

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The increase in conveniently prepared ready-to-eat vegetables, developed to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption, has introduced the problem of reduced product shelf life, particularly for lettuce. This project aims to utilise molecular breeding techniques to increase the nutritional content of lettuce, one of the most widely consumed vegetables, whilst improving the post-processing shelf life.

Despite the wealth of evidence suggesting poor diet is linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, two-thirds of British adults fail to eat the recommended "five-a-day" and as a result, nutritional deficiencies are surprisingly common in the Western world. To encourage fresh food consumption, there has been an increase in the availability of convenient and quick-to-prepare food, including pre-washed and cut lettuce. However the additional levels of handling and processing involved in producing ready-to-eat lettuce can incur damages which ultimately reduce product shelf life.

Improving the nutritional content of plant-based foods is already a large area of research, driven by improving human health. Lettuce is a good target for such improvement, as it is one of the few vegetables widely consumed (fifth most popular) and it is already a good source of important nutrients. Creating a crop which can better withstand processing is also necessary to meet modern day consumer demands.

This project is aiming to improve the genetic understanding of these post-harvest traits in lettuce, specifically antioxidant potential, phytonutrient levels and several of the physiological, biochemical and biophysical traits affecting leaf processability which may impact on shelf life. Employing a molecular breeding approach, we have determined genomic regions underlying these important quantitative traits and identified several candidate genes. This information is currently being utilised in a commercial breeding program and genome editing approaches will next be employed to confirm the roles of gene candidates in a transgenic lettuce knockout model.

Funding providers:

Funding dates: 2009 - 2017 
Supervisors:  Professor Gail Taylor and Dr Mark Chapman

Trialling high antioxidant lettuce crosses on commercial farm (2015)
Trialling high antioxidant lettuce crosses on commercial farm (2015)
Measuring cell wall strength using Instron device
Measuring cell wall strength using Instron device

Related research groups

Ecology and Evolution
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