Prunus, which includes peach/nectarine, almond, apricot, cherry, and plum, is a large and economically important genus in the family Rosaceae. The size and long generation time of these tree crops have hampered improvement through classical breeding and long-term selection programs. With the advent of DNA-based molecular diagnostics, an exciting era in germplasm improvement has dawned. Efforts are underway, notably in the United States (e.g., California, Michigan, North Carolina, and South Carolina) and the European Community (e.g., England, France, Italy, and Spain), to apply the tools of molecular mapping and marker-assisted selection to this important genus. The objective of these projects is to develop molecular linkage maps of sufficient marker density to tag phenotypic trait loci of agronomic importance. These include traits controlled by single genes (e.g., flower color, compatibility, flesh color, pest resistance), as well as more-complex, quantitative traits (e.g., cold hardiness, tree architecture, sugar content). An immediate outcome of these mapping efforts has been the development of DNA “fingerprints,” allowing for the discrimination of cultivars—both scion and rootstock. The maps will be used by breeders and molecular biologists to monitor gene introgression from wild species into elite lines, for marker-assisted selection of desired trait combinations, and for map-based cloning of specific genes. The molecular markers used in these mapping projects include RFLPs, RAPDs, and microsatellites. Each has their appropriate applications and advantages depending upon the resources at hand and the project's specific goals.
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