New Eggplant Varieties Resistant to Extreme Conditions

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Spanish scientists are leading an international project to develop new varieties of eggplants which are more tolerant to extreme drought conditions, and more resistant to the most serious pest and diseases that affect the crop.

The Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV), through the Institute of Conservation and Improvement of Valencian Agrodiversity (COMAV), is leading the EggPreBreed II project. The COMAV team works with eggplants that have been crossed with related wild species such as Solanum incanum and Solanum elaeagnifolium.  These wild relatives have a higher tolerance to drought than the domesticated eggplants. With these crosses, EggPreBreed II will be able to obtain genetic material of eggplants that in most of its traits – fruit size, color, composition, etc. – is indistinguishable from presently cultivated eggplant, but they have the beneficial traits of the wild species.

“By introducing genes from these wild species we can improve drought tolerance and get higher eggplant production with the same amount of water. But, in addition, we can also take advantage of other characteristics of interest of wild species, for example, their high content in phenolic compounds, which is of great interest for human health. Therefore, this project opens the door to a new generation of commercial varieties of eggplant that can have greater efficiency in the use of water and with better functional properties,” said Jaime Prohens, director of COMAV-UPV and principal investigator of EggPreBreed II.

Seven years of research

The project is a continuation of research that the COMAV-UPV team has been developing since 2013. To date, the researchers have obtained different lines of introgression – genetic material of eggplant that includes a fragment of the genome of other donor species, in this case wild relatives.

“The objective now is to refine these materials, improve them to reduce the unfavorable characteristics of wild species, such as the presence of prickles or the intense bitterness of the fruit, obtaining pure lines resistant to stress caused by climate change, Fusarium and nematodes. Having this material will make it easier for seed companies to use and incorporate it into breeding pipelines in order to develop new commercial varieties in a crop as important worldwide as eggplant,” said Prohens.

The project is part of the global initiative Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: Collecting, Protecting and Preparing Wild Relatives, which is led by the Crop Trust and funded by the Norwegian Government.

“In the first phase of this project, Jaime and his team managed to cross domestic varieties of eggplant with 15 different wild relatives. That’s an impressive achievement,” said Benjamin Kilian, representative of the Crop Trust. “We are pleased to support the scientists of the UPV in this second phase; we are sure that the fruits of this effort will help to adapt our agriculture to climate change.”

The EggPreBreed II project also involves the University of Kafrelsheikh in Egypt who is involved in the analysis of resistance to Fusarium and nematodes. Several seed companies from the Philippines, Egypt, France and Spain will test the commercial utility of the plant materials developed in the project and will incorporate them in their breeding programs to develop the new varieties.

Eggplant is one of the 35 crops considered as most important for world food security and, as such, is included in Annex 1 of the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

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All agronomic and genetic data generated throughout this project will be shared in the future on the online platform Germinate, a database platform that provides a standard and common interface to genetic resources collections.

Seeds of the improved wild-derived eggplant lines developed during this project will be stored at the UPV genebank and shared under the terms and conditions of the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) within the framework of the multilateral system of the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.


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