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  • Author or Editor: Ana Fita x
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Roots are critical for plants to withstand environmental abiotic and biotic stresses. Wild taxa are often used as source of variation for improving root systems, as they are adapted to more stressful soil environments than their cultivated relatives. We studied the genetics of traits related to root biomass, root length, and root architecture (considering the primary/secondary and the tertiary root levels) in melon (Cucumis melo L.) in a 2-year assay by examining the root systems of mature plants in 91 F3 families derived from the cross between a wild accession, Pat 81 [C. melo ssp. agrestis (Naud) Pangalo], and a cultivated accession, `Piel de sapo' (C. melo ssp. melo L.). Despite the difficulties of working with adult plants, we found that Pat 81 and `Piel de sapo' differ greatly in their mature root systems, which is in concordance with the results previously obtained with young roots. Pat 81 developed roots with less biomass than `Piel de sapo', but this wild accession had more favorable root length and architectural traits: a higher density of framework roots, more uniformly distributed along the soil profile, longer laterals with a higher density of branches, and a higher number of root orders. This root structure is linked to a deeper rooting ability and to the capacity of exploiting a larger soil volume. The genetic analysis indicated that length and architectural traits are more stable than biomass traits, both between years and between developmental stages. Moderate to low broad- and narrow-sense heritabilites were found for root length and architectural traits, with most of the observed variation due to additive effects. Our results suggest that Pat 81 could be used as donor of valuable genes for increasing root length and improving the root architecture of cultivated melons, producing melons potentially more tolerant to soil stresses. The lack of phenotypic and genetic correlations between length and architectural parameters and root biomass suggest that root structure can be successfully improved without increasing carbon expenditures.

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Plant breeding programs involve multiple steps, and their complete development cannot be experienced by students in a single academic year. Tools of communication and information technologies offer a great opportunity to improve students' skills, but only a few software are available for training undergraduate students in plant breeding programs. Here we present a student-friendly software tool, Retromelon, for simulating the backcross breeding method. We also evaluate its suitability and performance as a learning tool. This software is designed to recreate a real melon (Cucumis melo) backcross breeding program aimed at introgressing the resistance to melon vine decline from the tolerant melon cultivar Pat81 into the susceptible cultivar Piel de Sapo. The software simulates the most important steps and decisions that must be made by a plant breeder in a backcross breeding program, including the number of individuals to evaluate in each generation, evaluation of agronomic traits, and selection of individuals. This software is being used by undergraduate horticulture students. Our results have shown that the use of this tool in the classroom increases the motivation of the students, and therefore, benefits the learning process. This software is available upon request both in English and Spanish versions.

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The study of the genetic control of natural variation in the root architecture of Cucumis melo L. is complex due to the difficulties of root phenotyping and to the quantitative nature of root traits and their plasticity. A library of near-isogenic lines (NILs), constructed by introgressing the genome of the exotic Korean accession Shongwan Charmi [SC (PI161375)] into the genetic background of the cultivar Piel de Sapo (PS) has recently become available. In this work, we used this population to identify quantitative trait loci (QTLs) controlling variation in root growth and architecture. We studied separately the primary root and the secondary and tertiary root systems during a 15-day period. Heritabilities for the root traits were moderate. Correlation and principal component analysis showed independence among traits measuring root length and root branching level, indicating the possibility of modifying both traits independently. PS and SC clearly differed in plant size. Significant allometric relationships between vine biomass and some root traits were identified. The use of NILs with similar plant size of PS allowed us to avoid the inaccuracies caused by size-dependent variation of root traits. A total of 17 QTLs for root traits in seven linkage groups were identified: three QTLs for primary root length, three QTLs for the diameter of the primary root, three QTLs for secondary root density, three QTLs for the average length of the secondary roots, three QTLs for the percentage of secondary roots bearing tertiary roots, and two QTLs for tertiary root density. In most of these traits, transgressive variation was observed.

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Wild relatives represent a source of variation for many traits of interest for eggplant (Solanum melongena) breeding, as well as for broadening the genetic base of this crop. However, interspecific hybridization with wild relatives has been barely used in eggplant breeding programs. As initiation of an introgression breeding program we performed 1424 interspecific hybridizations between six accessions of eggplant from the Occidental and Oriental groups and 19 accessions of 12 wild species from the primary (Solanum incanum and Solanum insanum), secondary (Solanum anguivi, Solanum dasyphyllum, Solanum lichtensteinii, Solanum linnaeanum, Solanum pyracanthos, Solanum tomentosum, and Solanum violaceum), and tertiary (Solanum elaeagnifolium, Solanum sisymbriifolium, and Solanum torvum) genepools. Fruit set, hybrid seed, and seed germination were obtained between Solanum melongena and all wild species of the primary and secondary genepools. The highest fruit set percentage and quantity of seeds per fruit were obtained with the two primary genepool species S. incanum and S. insanum as well as with some secondary genepool species, like S. anguivi, S. dasyphyllum, or S. lichtensteinii, although some differences among species were observed depending on the direction of the hybridization. For small-fruited wild species, the number of seeds per fruit was lower when using them as maternal parent. Regarding tertiary genepool species, fruit set was obtained only in interspecific hybridizations of eggplant with S. sisymbriifolium and S. torvum, although the fruit of the former were parthenocarpic. However, it was possible to rescue viable interspecific hybrids with S. torvum. In total we obtained 58 interspecific hybrid combinations (excluding reciprocals) between eggplant and wild relatives. Some differences were observed among S. melongena accessions in the degree of success of interspecific hybridization, so that the number of hybrid combinations obtained for each accession ranged between 7 (MEL2) and 16 (MEL1). Hybridity of putative interspecific hybrid plantlets was confirmed with a morphological trait (leaf prickliness) and 12 single nucleotide polymorphism markers. The results show that eggplant is amenable to interspecific hybridization with a large number of wild species, including tertiary genepool materials. These hybrid materials are the starting point for introgression breeding in eggplant and in some cases might also be useful as rootstocks for eggplant grafting.

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