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Improving Cranberries for a Healthier Tomorrow

The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait.) is a slender, creeping, woody, evergreen perennial vine native to North America. It is adapted to moist, acidic soils, peat bogs, marshes and swamps with temperate climates.

Cranberries contain relatively high levels of vitamin C, cellulose and pectin and produce pigments (anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins) which have been shown to help prevent urinary tract infections. The anthocyanin content of cranberry is also believed to have important therapeutic values, including antitumor, antiulcer, antioxidant and antiinflammatory activities.

Natural stands of cranberries are harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador each year. However, with increased consumer demands for nutritious, high antioxidant berries, local demand is now exceeding production.

Traditional propagation methods are unable to supply the large quantities of genetically superior plants needed for commercial production. Scientists at the Atlantic Cool Climate Crop Research Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in St. John's are currently working with new techniques to develop cranberry varieties with better yields and high antioxidant levels. Micropropagation is a tissue culture technique for plant propagation in which plants are cloned from tissue taken from a single plant. It allows for rapid cloning of plants that have been identified as having characteristics of particular interest, such as good yield and high antioxidant levels.

A new micropropagation technique has been developed that enables shoot proliferation and rooting in one step (Fig. 1). This in vitro clonal system can be useful for multiplying a wide range of identical cranberry plants. The main advantage of this technique is that all the shoot tips of the in vitro grown plantlets can be grown on fresh media for shoot proliferation and rooting in a controlled environment. The plants can then be transferred to the greenhouse and eventually in field.

Figure 1: Cranberry micropropagation protocol

Description of this image follows

Description - Figure 1

A new micropropagation technique has been developed that enables shoot proliferation and rooting in one step. The new micropropogation technique begins with a greenhouse-grown plant from which a node culture is taken. The node then grows shoots in vitro and begins rooting at which point it can be planted and becomes a plantlet. Finally the plantlet becomes a micropropagated plant in a greenhouse.

Figure 2: Greenhouse-grown cranberry germplasm

Several greenhouse-grown cranberry plants in pots lined up beside each other

Figure 3: Molecular analysis shows genetic variation in cranberry clones

Agarose gel showing banding pattern of DNA amplification product.

More than 450 cranberry plants (clones) were collected from natural stands of five Canadian provinces (NL, NS, PEI, NB, and QC). These are maintained at the St. John's Research Centre. Currently, the Centre has 20 wild selections from the collection and six standard cultivars ready for field evaluation.

Scientists are also looking at molecular techniques such as genetic fingerprinting of cranberry plants which allows direct comparison of different genetic material independent of environmental influences (Figure 3). This technique will allow them to find new improved cranberry varieties.

Dr. Samir Debnath is leading this research program along with technical assistance from Sarah Leonard, Glenn Chubbs and Daryl Martin, at the Research Centre in St. John's.


Dr. Samir Debnath, P. Ag.
Research Scientist
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Tel.: 709-772-4788

AAFC Publication No. 10373E
Cat. No. A-52-145/2009E-PDF
ISBN 978-1-100-12955-6

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