`European Project Studies Olive Genetics to Prepare Growers for The Future - Olive Oil Times

European Project Studies Olive Genetics to Prepare Growers for The Future

Jul. 23, 2021
Jasmina Nevada

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As the impacts of cli­mate change con­tinue to be felt by olive grow­ers world­wide, the researchers behind the European Union-funded Gen4Olive project believe olive genet­ics may pro­vide some solu­tions to their most press­ing issues.

According to Hristofor Miho, the project man­ager of Gen4Olive, only five per­cent of the world’s olive vari­eties are com­mer­cially exploited. The remain­ing 95 per­cent are unused and pri­mar­ily pre­served in the world’s five main olive germplasm banks in Morocco, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

The Gen4Olive project will focus on the eval­u­a­tion of olive genetic resources that can bet­ter with­stand dif­fer­ent cli­mate change sce­nar­ios.- Hristofor Miho, project man­ager, Gen4Olive

Miho said that this large unused per­cent­age leads to genetic ero­sion, which exac­er­bates prob­lems caused by cli­mate change and the spread of pests and dis­eases.

The researchers behind the Gen4Olive project are cur­rently work­ing to char­ac­ter­ize and clas­sify olive cul­ti­vars to design new breed­ing pro­grams to meet mar­ket needs, such as dis­ease-resis­tant cul­ti­vars that are adapt­able to high-den­sity farms. This type of research would also increase the gen­eral body of knowl­edge about the more rarely exploited cul­ti­vars.

Thus, farm­ers will have a var­ied choice in plant­ing olive cul­ti­vars which are more pro­duc­tive and resilient to biotic and abi­otic fac­tors,” Miho told Olive Oil Times.

On the other hand, this project will con­tribute to har­mo­niz­ing the work between the dif­fer­ent olive germplasm banks in the main Mediterranean coun­tries and end-users such as nurs­ery­men and farm­ers with direct access to genetic resources that they can explore,” he added.

The main goal of Gen4Olive is to char­ac­ter­ize 500 dif­fer­ent olive vari­eties and 1,000 wild and ancient geno­types. The researchers are already in the process of cre­at­ing two mobile appli­ca­tions to help iden­tify olive tree vari­eties and detect pests and dis­eases that may have infected a plant.

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Gen4Olive researchers

Miho said this would help iden­tify vari­eties that are resis­tant to dif­fer­ent dis­eases and have shorter juve­nile peri­ods – the amount of time before an olive tree becomes fully pro­duc­tive. He expects these tools to be avail­able to the pub­lic by 2024.

He added that the Gen4Olive project has two main strate­gies lined up to help olive grow­ers mit­i­gate the effects of the Mediterranean basin’s chang­ing cli­mate.

Taking advan­tage of germplasm banks found in five Mediterranean coun­tries with very dif­fer­ent cli­mates, the geno­type-by-envi­ron­ment inter­ac­tion will be eval­u­ated,” he said.

See Also: 13 New Olive Varieties Discovered in Catalonia

Predictive mod­els on the effect of cli­mate change on olive cul­ti­va­tion can be devel­oped,” he added. Also, chill­ing require­ments of more than 500 vari­eties can be eval­u­ated to antic­i­pate pos­si­ble flow­er­ing prob­lems in arid areas.”

In address­ing issues such as pests and dis­eases, Miho said that genetic ero­sion arises with the gap between the num­ber of cul­ti­vars known instead of the total amount in exis­tence.

For exam­ple, Xylella fas­tidiosa has oblit­er­ated thou­sands of hectares of olive trees in Italy in a short space of time. He argued that the relief response has been rel­a­tively slow due to a delay in devel­op­ing new resis­tant vari­eties.

Miho wor­ries that genetic ero­sion has already hurt the poten­tial of olive oil pro­duc­tion for many grow­ers, espe­cially on high-den­sity and super-high-den­sity plan­ta­tions.

He said that very few cul­ti­vars are adapted to these sys­tems and would be extremely dif­fi­cult to replace with new cul­ti­vars as they are increas­ingly affected by cli­mate change and biotic and abi­otic stresses.

For this rea­son, the Gen4Olive project will focus on the eval­u­a­tion of olive genetic resources that can bet­ter with­stand dif­fer­ent cli­mate change sce­nar­ios,” Miho said. It will be eas­ier for us to mit­i­gate any unfore­seen events quickly and effi­ciently.”

In the com­ing years, depend­ing on the risks that threaten olive trees, such as pan­demic dis­eases or cli­mate change, we may quickly notice a change in the trends of cul­ti­vated vari­eties,” he added. For this rea­son, it is cru­cial to be ready and alert to pro­vide a quick solu­tion to the sec­tor.”


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