Diversity in Metabolites and Fruit Quality Traits in Blueberry Enables Ploidy and Species Differentiation and Establishes a Strategy for Future Genetic Studies

Molla F. Mengist, Mary H. Grace, Jia Xiong, Colin D. Kay, Nahla Bassil, Kim Hummer, Mario G. Ferruzzi, Mary Ann Lila, Massimo Iorizzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Blueberry is well recognized as a rich source of health promoting phytochemicals such as flavonoids and phenolic acids. Multiple studies in blueberry and other crops indicated that flavonoids and phenolic acids function as bioactive compounds in the human body promoting multiple health effects. Despite their importance, information is limited about the levels of variation in bioactive compounds within and between ploidy level and species, and their association with fruit quality traits. Such information is crucial to define a strategy to study the genetic mechanisms controlling these traits and to select for these traits in blueberry breeding programs. Here we evaluated 33 health related phytochemicals belonging to four major groups of flavonoids and phenolic acids across 128 blueberry accessions over two years together with fruit quality traits, including fruit weight, titratable acidity, total soluble acids and pH. Highly significant variation between accessions, years, and accession by year interaction were identified for most of the traits. Cluster analysis grouped phytochemicals by their functional structure (e.g., anthocyanins, flavanols, flavonols, and phenolic acids). Multivariate analysis of the traits resulted in separation of diploid, tetraploid and hexaploid accessions. Broad sense heritability of the traits estimated in 100 tetraploid accessions, ranged from 20 to 90%, with most traits revealing moderate to high broad sense heritability (H2 > 40%), suggesting that strong genetic factors control these traits. Fruit size can be estimated as a proxy of fruit weight or volume and vice versa, and it was negatively correlated with content of most of phytochemicals evaluated here. However, size-independent variation for anthocyanin content and profile (e.g., acylated vs. non-acylated anthocyanin) exists in the tetraploid accessions and can be explored to identify other factors such as genes related to the biosynthetic pathway that control this trait. This result also suggests that metabolite concentrations and fruit size, to a certain degree can be improved simultaneously in breeding programs. Overall, the results of this study provide a framework to uncover the genetic basis of bioactive compounds and fruit quality traits and will be useful to advance blueberry-breeding programs focusing on integrating these traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number370
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
StatePublished - Apr 3 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • blueberry
  • flavonoid pathway
  • fruit quality
  • fruit size
  • health promoting phytochemicals
  • ploidy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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