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Gayle M. Volk and Christopher M. Richards

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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Gayle M. Volk and Christopher M. Richards

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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Gayle M. Volk and Christopher M. Richards

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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Gayle M. Volk, Adam D. Henk and Christopher M. Richards

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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Gayle M. Volk, Adam D. Henk, Christopher M. Richards, Philip L. Forsline and C. Thomas Chao

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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Gayle M. Volk, Christopher M. Richards, Adam D. Henk, Ann Reilley, Diane D. Miller and Philip L. Forsline

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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Gayle M. Volk, Christopher M. Richards, Ann A. Reilley, Adam D. Henk, Philip L. Forsline and Herb S. Aldwinckle

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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Gayle M. Volk, Christopher M. Richards, Adam D. Henk, Ann A. Reilley, Nahla V. Bassil and Joseph D. Postman

Edible european pears (Pyrus communis L. ssp. communis) are derived from wild relatives native to the Caucasus Mountain region and eastern Europe. Microsatellite markers (13 loci) were used to determine the relationships among 145 wild and cultivated individuals of P. communis maintained in the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS). A Bayesian clustering method grouped the individual pear genotypes into 12 clusters. Pyrus communis ssp. caucasica (Fed.) Browicz, native to the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, Crimea, and Armenia, can be genetically differentiated from P. communis ssp. pyraster L. native to eastern European countries. The domesticated pears cluster closely together and are most closely related to a group of genotypes that are intermediate to the P. communis ssp. pyraster and the P. communis ssp. caucasica groups. Based on the high number of unique alleles and heterozygosity in each of the 12 clusters, we conclude that genetic diversity of wild P. communis is not fully represented at the NPGS. Additional diversity may be present in seed accessions stored in the NPGS and more pear diversity could be captured through supplementary collection trips to eastern Europe, the Caucasus Mountains, and the surrounding countries.

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Kanin J. Routson, Gayle M. Volk, Christopher M. Richards, Steven E. Smith, Gary Paul Nabhan and Victoria Wyllie de Echeverria

Pacific crabapple [Malus fusca (Raf.) C.K. Schneid.] is found in mesic coastal habitats in Pacific northwestern North America. It is one of four apple species native to North America. M. fusca is culturally important to First Nations of the region who value and use the fruit of this species as food, bark and leaves for medicine, and wood for making tools and in construction. However, little is known about either distribution or genetic diversity of this species. To correct this deficiency, we used habitat suitability modeling to map M. fusca habitat types with species occurrence records. The species apparently occupies at least two distinct climate regions: a colder, drier northern region and a warmer, wetter southern region. Total area of modeled habitat encompasses ≈356,780 km2 of low-lying areas along the Pacific coast. A total of 239 M. fusca individuals sampled from across its native range were genetically compared using six microsatellite markers to assess for possible geographic structuring of genotypes. The primers amplified 50 alleles. Significant isolation by distance was identified across the ≈2600 km (straight line) where samples were distributed. These results may help establish priorities for in situ and ex situ M. fusca conservation.

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Briana L. Gross, Gayle M. Volk, Christopher M. Richards, Philip L. Forsline, Gennaro Fazio and C. Thomas Chao

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS), Plant Genetic Resources Unit apple (Malus) collection in Geneva, NY, conserves over 2500 trees as grafted clones. We have compared the genotypes of 1131 diploid Malus ×domestica cultivars with a total of 1910 wild and domesticated samples representing 41 taxonomic designations in the NPGS collection to identify those that are genetically identical based on nine simple sequence repeat (SSR) loci. We calculated the probability of identity for samples in the data set based on allelic diversity and, where possible, use fruit images to qualitatively confirm similarities. A total of 237 alleles were amplified and the nine SSRs were deemed adequate to assess duplication within the collection with the caveat that “sport families” likely would not be differentiated. A total of 238 M. ×domestica and 10 samples of other taxonomic groups shared a genotype with at least one other M. ×domestica individual. In several cases, genotypes for cultivars matched genotypes of known rootstocks and indicated that these accessions may not accurately represent the indicated named clones. Sets of individuals with identical genotypes and similar cultivar names were assigned to sport families. These 23 sport families, comprised of 104 individuals, may have mutational differences that were not identified using the nine SSR loci. Five of the selected markers (CH01h01, CH02d08, CH01f02, G12, GD147) overlap with sets of markers that have been used to fingerprint European apple collections, thus making it possible to compare and coordinate collection inventories on a worldwide scale.