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Plants for Human Health Institute Lays Groundwork for Cabbage Breeding Program

Two scientists with the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis are studying more than 300 cabbage varieties as part of the initial phase in a cabbage breeding program.

Dr. Gad Yousef, senior research scientist, and Dr. Allan Brown, assistant professor, recently received grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin a study to evaluate the genetic diversity of cabbage. Green cabbage is a rich source of glucosinolates and carotenoids, among other healthy compounds that contribute health benefits. Red or purple cabbage also contains anthocyanins. Despite cabbage’s human health benefits – it helps protect against chronic diseases such as cancer and macular degeneration – the per capita consumption has declined over the last four decades.

Dr. Yousef and Dr. Brown hope to reverse that declining trend. As part of their study, they will evaluate the genetic diversity of a wide range of cabbage germplasm. According to Dr. Yousef, “Our goal is to identify material that will lead to new and economically viable cultivars for North Carolina farmers.” Dr. Brown added, “We believe that improved taste and health benefits will lead to greater consumption of this healthy vegetable.”

Over a two-year period, the researchers will conduct most of their work on green, red and Savoy cabbage in a climate-controlled greenhouse at the Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury, N.C., and in Dr. Brown’s lab at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.

According to Brown, this current study is in collaboration with the USDA germplasm repository in Geneva, N.Y. It will add valuable information to the cabbage program which also includes an extensive germplasm collection that the Plants for Human Health Institute received from the Monsanto Company in May 2011.

North Carolina is the fifth-leading cabbage-producing state with an annual crop value of more than $14 million. Nationally, the crop is valued at more than $400 million annually.

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