Making a blueberry plant that packs a healthy punch
August 28, 2013

A scientist at the Atlantic Cool Climate Research Centre off Brookfield Road in St. John’s is working on making a champion blueberry plant — one with high production, large fruit and, most importantly, high levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Samir Debnath has looked at different blueberry plants and figured out what he likes about each.

“Our intention is to get something which can be grown here with high production and high quality,” he says.

The highbush blueberry plant — developed in the states — is very large compared to the lowbush blueberry plants found in this province. It has higher production and larger fruit. However, it doesn’t grow well in the Northern climate and its berries don’t pack as much of an antioxidant punch as the local blueberry. What Debnath is after is a plant that can grow well in this province’s climate, and has a high antioxidant value like the Newfoundland blueberry but has higher production and larger fruit like the highbush blueberry plant.

So he crossed the highbush plant with selected clones of the lowbush Newfoundland variety to produce a midbush hybrid cultivar.

“We made them and now we have around 2,500 plants here in the field. We have more than 500 plants with Lester’s Farm. We have around 400 plants with GROWDAT Farms in Cavendish.”

To reproduce the plant, Debnath has used a process called bioreactor micropropagation. Crossing them the way he did originally to get the hybrid only produces a plant or two. The lab method mentioned involves putting a small piece of a plant into a culture. It’s cloned very quickly to allow a great number of plants to be ready for the field.

But the quest for the super blueberry plant isn’t finished yet. The 2,500 plants Debnath has in the field now are being watched very closely and the best ones out of that crop will be selected to make the best possible blueberry plants.

“Out of 2,500 plants, I’ll select maybe five plants which can really, really survive, having the best (antioxidants), having the best quality.”

Debnath says with climate change occurring, he and his team need to make plants that withstand more severe climate.

“Climate is changing so we have to get something that can really, really withstand under adverse climate conditions.”

The end result will be a plant that can survive well in this climate and produce a high-quality, highly healthy blueberry. It won’t just be Canada that can benefit, but also other areas with a similar climate such as northern Europe where the blueberry plant will also grow well.

Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram