Dr. Sharman O’Neill, professor of biological sciences at the University of California-Davis, and her research team will use natural and traditional plant-breeding methods, combined with genomic mapping techniques, to develop vanilla varieties that are hardier, more disease resistant and offer enhanced flavor, the company said.
O’Neill said: “The ultimate goal of the project is to improve the genetic foundation of the vanilla crop in support of vanilla farmers worldwide.”
The researchers said they plan to begin small-scale testing of improved vanilla plant varieties by 2013, and to make them available to growers by about 2015.
Steve Peterson, director of sourcing sustainability at General Mills said: “As a crop, vanilla is often a way of life for vanilla growers. But vanilla is increasingly under threat from plant disease, volatile weather patterns and economic hardship, leading many growers to abandon vanilla farming for crops that may offer more stability and consistency.
“General Mills’ goal is to maintain a strong, sustainable supply of high-quality vanilla beans.”