RAPD markers were used to examine genetic similarity in cacao. DNA from 30 cacao cultivars amplified using 15 arbitrary oligonucleotide primers, produced a total of 112 fragments, of which 88% were polymorphic. A phenogram was developed which illustrates the genetic relationships among the cacao cultivars representing the four major geographic groups of cacao (Criollo, Trinitario, Forastero Lower Amazonian, and Forastero Upper Amazonian). The phenogram indicated a general separation of the four groups into three clusters. Criollos and Trinitarios (supposedly hybrids between Forastero and Criollos types) appeared in a single cluster. Lower Amazonian cultivars (mainly selections made in Bahia, Brazil) appeared in a separate cluster. The third cluster consisted of the Upper Amazonian cultivars, which were originally collected from the region believed to be the center of origin of this crop. This cluster displayed the furthest genetic distance from the others. Crosses between Upper Amazon germplasm and local selections have shown heterosis in clonal crosses, which has been exploited in all genetic improvement programs for cacao. We propose that genetic distances based on RAPD markers can be potentially used as a criterion to select parents capable of producing superior hybrids and populations. Genetic relationships can also be useful to define germplasm collections and conservation strategies. Studies are underway to compare phenograms derived from RAPD markers and ribosomal RNA gene polymorphisms.
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