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  • Author or Editor: Christopher M. Richards x
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Wild plant genetic resources are increasingly becoming valuable for breeding, genomics, and ornamental horticulture programs. Wild relatives of horticultural species may offer desirable traits that are not available in cultivated varieties, but “wilds” often also have traits that are highly undesirable. Advances in comparative genomics and marker-assisted breeding facilitate the inclusion of the valued traits from wild materials in plant breeding programs. As technologies advance, wild plant genetic resources will become even more valuable for future research developments. This serves as an introduction to a series of proceedings articles from the American Society of Horticultural Science meetings in 2010 workshop entitled “Horticultural Value of Wild Genetic Resources.”

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Plant genetic resource collections provide novel materials to the breeding and research communities. Crop wild relatives may harbor completely novel forms of allelic variation for biotic and abiotic resistance as well as masked genes for improved quality and production. This variation has been shaped by the environment from which the plant materials were collected. With detailed original source information, genetic assessments of germplasm collections can go beyond the basic measurements of collection diversity and breeding for simple traits to assessments of natural variation in environmental contexts. Availability of detailed documentation of passport, phenotypic, and genetic data increases the value of all genebank accessions. Inclusion of georeferenced sources, habitats, and sampling data in collection databases facilitates interpretation of genetic data for genebank accessions with wild origins.

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The USDA-ARS National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) provides critical genetic resources to researchers and breeders worldwide. Users of the NPGS materials need access to data for genetic and descriptive characteristics of the plant materials. New tables and codes have been added to the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) database to hold raw data relating to molecular markers and alleles. The revised tables accommodate multiple marker types; provide raw data for individuals; accept polyploid data; and provide a record of methods, standards, and control values. A long-term goal is to make the GRIN molecular tables fully interoperable with the National Center for Biotechnology Information database as well as bioinformatic databases (model organism and clade organism databases). The development of this capacity provides critical data infrastructure for future genotype–phenotype association studies and gene discovery.

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Garlic (Allium sativum L.) has been clonally propagated for thousands of years because it does not produce seed under standard cultivation conditions. A single garlic accession frequently displays a high degree of phenotypic plasticity that is likely to be dependent upon soil type, moisture, latitude, altitude, and cultural practices. The diversity observed by collectors has occasionally led to the renaming of varieties as they are exchanged among growers and gardeners. As a result, there are numerous garlic varieties available both commercially and within the USDA National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) that may be identical genotypically, yet have unique cultivar names. To address this possibility, we performed amplified fragment-length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis on a comprehensive selection of 211 Allium sativum and Allium longicuspis accessions from NPGS and commercial sources. We used several statistical approaches to evaluate how these clonal lineages are genetically differentiated and how these patterns of differentiation correspond to recognized phenotypic classifications. These data suggest that while there are extensive duplications within the surveyed accessions, parsimony and distance based analyses reveal substantial diversity that is largely consistent with major phenotypic classes.

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There are several Central Asian Malus species and varieties in the USDA-ARS National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) apple collection. Malus sieversii is the most comprehensively collected species native to Central Asia. Other taxa such as M. sieversii var. kirghisorum, M. sieversii var. turkmenorum, M. pumila, and M. pumila var. niedzwetzkyana have primarily been donated to the collection by other institutions and arboreta. We sought to determine if genetic and/or phenotypic differences among the individuals that make up the gene pools of these taxa in the NPGS exhibit unique characteristics. Genetic data, based on microsatellite analyses, suggested that the diversity within each taxa is significantly greater than that among taxa. Trait data also revealed very few differences among taxa, the primary characteristic being the dark red fruit coloration and tinted flesh color of the accessions assigned to M. pumila var. niedzwetzkyana resulting from a known single-gene mutation in anthocyanin production. We found that M. sieversii is a highly diverse species with a range in genetic and phenotypic trait variation that includes the characteristics of the other Central Asian taxa of interest. We conclude that the gene pools that comprise the accessions within the NPGS Central Asian Malus collection are highly overlapping with respect to both phenotypic traits and genotypic characters.

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The genetic diversity of a wild Malus population collected in the Kyrgyz Republic was compared with seedlings of Malus sieversii collected in Kazakhstan. Based on microsatellite marker results, we conclude that the population of 49 individuals collected in the Kyrgyz Republic includes private alleles and this population is assigned to a common genetic lineage with M. sieversii individuals found in the Karatau Mountain range of Kazakhstan. We recommend that a subset of these individuals be included in the National Plant Germplasm System Malus collection so they may be made available to breeders, physiologists, and other scientists for further examination.

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Genetic diversity and disease resistance are described for 496 seedlings from wild populations of Malus orientalis Uglitzh. collected in southern Russia and Turkey in 1998 and 1999. Eighty-five half-sib families were genotyped using seven microsatellite markers, and disease resistance was determined for apple scab (Venturia inaequalis Cooke), cedar apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae Schwein), and fire blight (Erwinia amylovora Burrill). Individuals from the two Russian Caucasus collection locations were homogeneous compared with populations from the four Turkish collection locations. Within three of the Turkish collection locations, some half-sib families were highly diverse and several of these families had unusually high levels of disease resistance. In all, twenty individuals exhibited resistance to all three diseases. Bayesian analyses of the population structure revealed six distinct clusters. Most of the individuals segregated into two clusters, one containing individuals primarily from southern Russia and the other containing individuals from both Russia and northern Turkey. Individuals in the four small clusters were specific to Turkish collection locations. These data suggest wild populations of M. orientalis from regions around the Black Sea are genetically distinguishable and show high levels of diversity.

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Seeds from wild Malus orientalis trees were collected during explorations to Armenia (2001, 2002), Georgia (2004), Turkey (1999), and Russia (1998). Seedling orchards with between eight and 171 individuals from each collection location were established at the U.S. Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU) in Geneva, NY. Genotypic (seven microsatellite markers) and disease resistance data were collected for the 776 M. orientalis trees. The genetic diversity of the 280 individuals from Armenia and Georgia was compared with data previously published for the M. orientalis individuals from Russia and Turkey. A total of 106 alleles were identified in the trees from Georgia and Armenia and the average gene diversity ranged from 0.47 to 0.85 per locus. The genetic differentiation among sampling locations was greater than that found between the two countries. Six individuals from Armenia exhibited resistance to fire blight (Erwinia amylovora), apple scab (Venturia inaequalis), and cedar apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae). The allelic richness across all loci in the individuals from Armenia and Georgia was statistically the same as that across all loci in the individuals from Russia and Turkey. A core set of 27 trees was selected to capture 93% of the alleles represented by the entire PGRU collection of 776 M. orientalis trees. This core set representing all four countries was selected based on genotypic data using a modified maximization algorithm. The trees selected for the M. orientalis core collection will be added to the main field collection at the PGRU.

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We estimate the minimum core size necessary to maximally represent a portion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Plant Germplasm System apple (Malus) collection. We have identified a subset of Malus sieversii individuals that complements the previously published core subsets for two collection sites within Kazakhstan. We compared the size and composition of this complementary subset with a core set composed without restrictions. Because the genetic structure of this species has been previously determined, we were able to identify the origin of individuals within this core set with respect to their geographic location and genetic lineage. In addition, this core set is structured in a way that samples all of the major genetic lineages identified in this collection. The resulting panel of genotypes captures a broad range of phenotypic and molecular variation throughout Kazakhstan. These samples will provide a manageable entry point into the larger collection and will be critical in developing a long-term strategy for ex situ wild Malus conservation.

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Seeds and scionwood of Malus sieversii Lebed. have been collected from wild populations of apple trees in Kazakhstan. Seedlings and grafted trees were planted in the orchards at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Plant Genetic Resources Unit in Geneva, N.Y. We developed core collections to capture the genetic and phenotypic diversity represented in the trees from each of two of the Kazakhstan collection sites. These core collections capture more than 90% of the genetic diversity of the original populations, as determined using seven unlinked simple sequence repeat markers and 19 quantitative traits. Since phenotypic evaluations of these materials have been completed, the 35 trees within each population will be used as parents in crosses so that the genetic diversity in the orchard populations can be captured as seed for long-term ex situ conservation. This strategy of storing seeds, rather than maintaining costly field collections, could be applied to other collections of wild plant materials in the National Plant Germplasm System.

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