"For our major research projects, we have chosen the power of Doriane's RnDExp™ software" Laurent Chausset, R&D director, Marionnet
At the forefront of research in Strawberry breeding, thanks to its experience of more than a century, Marionnet is a major player in innovation in the small fruit sector, both nationally and internationally. The company distinguished itself in 1972 by creating the first private in vitro laboratory in France. The success of the Mara des Bois® Strawberry brought fame, followed by other highly appreciated innovations. To continue building great projects, Marionnet has chosen to acquire a powerful tool in 2019: Doriane's RnDExp™ plant breeding software.
Located in the heart of the Sologne region, the family business Marionnet was founded in 1891. Initially specializing in the production of asparagus claws, it turned to strawberries, the other local specialty, in the 1920s. The nursery's activities were soon extended to research in varietal creation, for Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries and other small fruits.
Berry breeding from family-run to R&D center
In 2018, Marionnet was taken over by the Agri Finest Company group, accompanied by a restructuring. R&D activities are now developed through two entities: Marionnet Label, in Soings-en-Sologne, for Strawberries and Raspberries breeding, and Agro Berry Technology, near Avignon, for Blackberries and Blueberries breeding.
Marionnet Label intends to continue the success story by focusing on varietal creation, through its Varietal Research and Innovation Center (CRIV). Recently, new laboratories were built on 400 m² (4,300 ft²), the multi-hood greenhouses cover 4,000 m² (43,055 ft²) and the nurseries and crops cover more than 2.5 ha (6 acres).
Some more impressive figures: for Strawberry breeding, Marionnet carries out about 200 crosses per year, more than 10,000 seedlings are observed and nearly 500 varieties evaluated.
From Excel to Berry breeding software
"The job of a Berry breeder is a long-term job. It takes at least ten years of research before a new variety is put on the market" says Laurent Chausset, director of the research center.
From the crossing of parents to the registration of the variety, hundreds of trials are carried out, which involves "thousands of notes to be analyzed, millions of data to be recorded".
To continue developing its Berry breeding activities, the company could no longer continue working on Excel spreadsheets. It became imperative to acquire an adapted and efficient tool. The solution? It is the choice, in 2019, of the RnDExp™ plant breeding software suite, developed by the company Doriane. The implementation of RnDExp™ was preceded by a detailed study of the needs, the precise configuration of the plant breeding software, the adaptation of the programs and the data storage mode.
"Doriane's team immediately understood the specificities of our work and knew how to meet the requirements of the selection profession", acknowledges Nolwenn Andouard, Strawberry and Raspberry breeder, adding "I was given adequate training, I was able to test the software before adapting it to our needs".
Highly configurable Berry breeding software
The selection of Strawberry plants begins with the crossing of two parents, chosen from a "gene pool", composed of cultivated varieties and wild cultivars. In practice, around March-April, the female flower is castrated by hand and pollinated by the pollen of another male plant. The most important thing is the choice of the parents. It is a question of identifying the parents or "ideotypes" which will have the best chances of combining the desired characteristics, in particular productivity and taste. For the moment, RnDExp™ has not yet recorded enough history. Soon, the Berry breeding software will allow intelligent management of genetic resources.
"The breeder may be a fine strategist, but today he cannot do without computer tools."
The seeds, collected in June, are sown and then planted in multi-hood greenhouses the following year. Approximately 10,000 seedlings are thus put under observation. This is the "screening" stage, and the purification is severe the first year: only 400 to 500 plants (i.e. 4 to 5%) will be retained. The five determining criteria are taste quality, presentation, firmness, size and yield.
It should be noted that Marionnet has always emphasized the taste quality of the Strawberry. The signature of the company "Taste the difference" represents a real challenge. Because the problem in selection is that yield and taste are often antagonistic characters.
After the screening, it's time for the examination. Nearly 500 plants to be judged, five criteria to be observed, all the values are entered in RnDExp™. Advantage: the plant breeding software allows to standardize the scoring methods. Each of the experimenters will have to fill in the same form for each of the plants tested, wherever the experiment is located.
"Data entry is easier, more complete and more reliable."
Intelligent compilation of Berry breeding data
The third year of selection comes. Again, observations and purifications. The work may seem long and tedious. Thanks to the RnDExp software, the monitoring of the crops is rationalized. The breeder must be precise and rigorous, and will find solid support from RnDExp. In year n+5, the selection rate is about 0.3%. Out of 10,000 seedlings, about 30 hybrids will be grown under real field conditions in multi-location trials.
It is then essential to test the varieties in several regions, and under different cli-mats. We know that strawberry production is highly dependent on climatic conditions. The trials are placed at Marionnet Label and at partner growers' sites. The behavior of each of the candidates will be analyzed for two or three years.
In addition to the five main criteria, the varieties are rated for their regularity, ease of picking, etc., not forgetting resistance to diseases such as powdery mildew, phytophthora or aphid attacks. For these evaluations, the RnDExp™ software is "ne-ce-ssa-ry". Whether the variety is observed in the north of France or in Morocco, whether or not it is a remontant variety (several blooms per year), the ratings are harmonized.
"No more Excel tables to complete and compare, the data is recorded in the software. Our work is secure and immediately validated", says Nolwenn Andouard, Strawberry and Raspberry breeder.
RnDExp's configuration includes filters that will allow the results of the evaluations to be compiled efficiently. By comparing agronomic results, by cross-referencing the results of technical cultivation methods, by comparing the taste-defining qualities (sugar content, acidity, aromas), we will finally be able to identify the "ideal variety". Among Marionnet Label's recent successful selections are the Mariguette® and Magnum® strawberries, as well as the Paris and Versailles raspberries. Several varieties are in the process of being registered.
"Nothing will replace the eye of the breeder but today we cannot do without the prodigious statistical tools of the RnDExp software, which allow us to study so many varieties, on so many parameters. Between our Excel tables of yesterday and the RnDExp software of today, there is a gap of 20 years! " Laurent Chausset, R&D director.
Powerful Berry breeding software, and even more !
Candidates who have passed all the controls can then go through the in vitro laboratory. The last identification and characterization tests are carried out. The variety will be presented for registration in the official catalog. Then begins the preparation of the plants that will be marketed. Let's not forget that Marionnet Label is one of the precursors of in vitro multiplication, starting from a virus-free meristem sample. This multiplication protocol leads to pre-basic plants, then to basic and certified plants.
Without revealing all the "selection secrets" of the Marionnet company, it is appropriate to mention the progress of the techniques of varietal improvement. In parallel to the so-called "massal" selection, described above, genetic knowledge leads to the identification of "characteristics of interest", thanks to "molecular markers". Marionnet Label is working in collaboration with several public and private research institutes to advance in the "selection assisted by molecular markers". This selection method is less empirical, but it is not so simple, because the strawberry is a very complex species (octoploid plant). In the laboratory, the RnDExp software is of great interest to automate certain tasks and facilitate collaboration between the breeder and the technician.
After the successes on Strawberry and Raspberry, Blackberry will soon benefit from the performance of RnDExp™ plant breeding software. The program is currently being configured.
There is no doubt that for Strawberries, as for other small fruits, Marionnet has great projects in perspective.
"We intend to explore all the functionalities of the Berry breeding software, thanks to the assistance and know-how of Doriane's team. For the moment, the RnDExp™ software is only being used at 10 or 20% of its potential. Every day we discover how powerful this software is." Laurent Chausset, R&D director
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