To comprehend genetic identity and relatedness in Malus germplasm held in situ and ex situ, we are employing simple sequence repeat (SSR) DNA fragment information in combination with passport and horticultural data. SSRs offer certain advantages for characterizing large arrays of germplasm efficiently. They are abundantly dispersed throughout plant genomes and are exceedingly polymorphic. In addition, they can be PCR-amplified and detected by automated fluorescence-based technology. A size-fractionated DNA library of M. ×domestica cv Golden Delicious was screened to identify SSR loci. Eight loci were found to be reliably informative and were used to prepare locus-specific primer pairs. Characterization of the 75 M. ×domestica accessions included in the core subset of the USDA-ARS Malus germplasm collection revealed six of the eight loci were polymorphic within the array. The number of alleles per locus ranged from two to 21. Throughput was enhanced by multiplexing, allowing simultaneous use of two or three primer pairs. With improved genetic characterization of Malus germplasm, we intend to better develop and relate the core subset to the rest of the collection and to in situ Malus genetic resources. SSR markers appear to be an efficient and reliable tool to expedite this process.
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