New research on the peach genome could eventually lead to heartier peach trees able to withstand changing climate conditions while still providing a tasty fruit.

Scientists from the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Ithaca, New York, worked with colleagues in China to identify the genetic information that allows peach trees to grow all over China, including in high altitude, drought, and extreme cold conditions. Their findings are published this week in the journal Genome Research.

Zhangjun Fei, a professor at BTI and Cornell, said with the information his team identified in wild peach varieties, breeders will eventually be able to take a domesticated peach cultivar that can’t withstand a particular condition (cold, drought, low oxygen, etc.) but has good fruit and replace certain genes in it with genetic material that confers tolerance to the condition. The result would be a heartier variety that still has the desirable fruit.

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“We know there is a lot of land that can grow peach if you have new cultivars,” Fei said.

Genomic studies to identify climate adaptation genes have been done on crops, like rice, soybeans, and sorghum, and on pine, poplar and spruce trees, but “this is the first one in fruit trees.”

Fei said ultimately the goal is for breeders to use the new information to bring the heartier varieties to market. Traditional genetic engineering or the newer CRISPR technology could be deployed, or he says maybe something else will come along.

“No one knows what kind of technology we will have in the near future,” Fei said.

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