Science helps parsnips remain a Christmas Dinner staple for years to come

University of Warwick scientists are investigating a disease affecting a Christmas Dinner traditional favourite in order to cut back on waste and reduce use of pesticides.

Parsnip canker can cause serious problems for UK farmers – with significant losses during harvest and storage.

Symptoms include orange or dark brown and black lesions on the shoulder and crown of the parsnip which makes them unsightly and unmarketable to the general public. Elsoms Seeds Ltd. have been breeding to improve the disease resistance of their parsnip varieties through their breeding programmes. Now along with the scientists, based at Warwick Crop Centre at the University of Warwick, they aim to further reduce this waste and cut back on pesticide use by developing tools to breed more canker-resistant parsnips.

The University has been awarded a BBSRC CASE studentship, co-funded by Elsoms Seeds Ltd, which will enable PhD student Lauren Chappell to study the genetics of resistance to parsnip canker.

Ms Chappell said: “No Christmas dinner would be complete without roast parsnips.

“But it’s a sad fact that some of the UK’s crop never reaches the dinner plate because of the severe blemishes caused by canker.

“By breeding parsnips which are more canker-resistant, we can cut back on this waste as well as reduce the need for pesticides.

“We are using the latest scientific techniques to ensure the sustainability of the parsnip for many Christmases to come.”

Using next generation sequence technology, a tool for genetic analysis, Ms Chappell will look at parsnip resistance on a molecular level – building on work being done by other academics elsewhere at the University of Warwick.

The PhD aims to develop a screening test to find parsnip breeding lines which are more resistant to the fungi which cause the canker, and then to develop a ‘map’ to guide a selective breeding programme.

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