Manjimup is one of two main hubs for a new national apple breeding research program used to develop new cultivars of naturally bred, premium quality, robust fruit for consumers to enjoy. The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Manjimup Horticulture Research Institute has joined with the State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre in Perth to participate in the Australian National Apple Breeding Program. DPIRD research scientist Sultan Mia is using molecular marker technology to pinpoint desirable quality and disease resistance traits to breed Western Australian apples in four or five years less than the traditional 20 year breeding time frame. “Apples are bred by crossing two different apple cultivars to produce seedlings that carry a blend of characteristics from each of the parent lines,” he said. “Molecular markers take the guesswork out of crossing by being able to target economically important quality traits and disease resistance traits in each parent. “Quality characteristics include firmness, crispness and acidity, sweetness, storage performance and colour, while disease resistance traits cover tolerance to apple scab, powdery mildew and fire blight. Mr Mia said marker technology helps the team to select seedlings with desirable characteristics and to cull inferior progeny just a few weeks after germination, saving costs, input, time and labour. Nine crosses were made last season with well known and novel plant material sourced from Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Japan to produce 1777 first generation seedlings. The seedlings are now being grown out at the DPIRD nursery for ongoing evaluation, with promising lines set to be promoted to stage two in five years.