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Rootstock Breeding and associated research at NIAB EMR

Rootstock selection and characterisation have been at the core of scientific pursuit at East Malling since the creation of the research station in 1913 although the intensity of activity and funding models for the variety development programme have varied with the management of the institute as a whole and levels of industry involvement over time. 

From detailed characterisation of rootstocks already present in European nurseries, to the sporadic creation of large breeding families fully phenotyped and selected for many years to, most recently a yearly crossing programme with a full pipeline of material at all stages. Similarly, whilst the key breeding objectives—vigour control, productivity, ease of propagation and pest and disease resistance—have remained constant the emphasis on the various priorities has evolved as have the available sources of allied research.

The most recent incarnation of programme, the East Malling Rootstock Club (2008-2019) was an endeavour funded with the UK levy board (AHDB) on behalf of the UK tree fruit industry and INN (International New varieties Network) encompassed the development of rootstocks for both apple and pear. During this period, the size and quality of our breeding pipeline was greatly enhance. 

The project also provided industry ‘justification’ to develop and bid for public funded research on replant disease and apple canker as well as three ongoing PhD projects under the Collaborative Training Partnership for Fruit Crop Research (CTP FCR) in root architecture and dwarfing, collar-rot and woolly apple aphid resistance respectively.

In the last two years the programme has introduced the use of DNA markers in the various stages of the selection process for apple as well started using LIDAR technology for plant vigour phenotyping with encouraging results and we have been working to develop seedling pre-selection and genomic selection strategies.

The current international financial climate has made it challenging to negotiate the next tranche of funding with industry partners but, thanks to a recent success in a bid for local development funding ( that we hope will help us to support some translational aspects of the project, we are hopeful that progress can be made on this front in the next few months.