Background: Cultivated strawberry is a hybrid octoploid species (Fragaria xananassa Duchesne ex. Rozier) whose fruit is highly appreciated due to its organoleptic properties and health benefits. Despite recent studies on the control of its growth and ripening processes, information about the role played by different hormones on these processes remains elusive. Further advancement of this knowledge is hampered by the limited sequence information on genes from this species, despite the abundant information available on genes from the wild diploid relative Fragaria vesca. However, the diploid species, or one ancestor, only partially contributes to the genome of the cultivated octoploid. We have produced a collection of expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from different cDNA libraries prepared from different fruit parts and developmental stages. The collection has been analysed and the sequence information used to explore the involvement of different hormones in fruit developmental processes, and for the comparison of transcripts in the receptacle of ripe fruits of diploid and octoploid species. The study is particularly important since the commercial fruit is indeed an enlarged flower receptacle with the true fruits, the achenes, on the surface and connected through a network of vascular vessels to the central pith.
Results: We have sequenced over 4,500 ESTs from Fragaria xananassa, thus doubling the number of ESTs available in the GenBank of this species. We then assembled this information together with that available from F. xananassa resulting a total of 7,096 unigenes. The identification of SSRs and SNPs in many of the ESTs allowed their conversion into functional molecular markers. The availability of libraries prepared from green growing fruits has allowed the cloning of cDNAs encoding for genes of auxin, ethylene and brassinosteroid signalling processes, followed by expression studies in selected fruit parts and developmental stages. In addition, the sequence information generated in the project, jointly with previous information on sequences from both F. xananassa and F. vesca, has allowed designing an oligo-based microarray that has been used to compare the transcriptome of the ripe receptacle of the diploid and octoploid species. Comparison of the transcriptomes, grouping the genes by biological processes, points to differences being quantitative rather than qualitative.
Conclusions: The present study generates essential knowledge and molecular tools that will be useful in improving investigations at the molecular level in cultivated strawberry (F. xananassa). This knowledge is likely to provide useful resources in the ongoing breeding programs. The sequence information has already allowed the development of molecular markers that have been applied to germplasm characterization and could be eventually used in QTL analysis. Massive transcription analysis can be of utility to target specific genes to be further studied, by their involvement in the different plant developmental processes.