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Haofeng Chen, Vanessa E.T.M. Ashworth, Shizhong Xu and Michael T. Clegg

The authors report a quantitative genetic analysis of avocado (Persea americana Mill.) growth rate, flower abundance, and fruit set. The data are based on a total of 204 different genotypes of progeny of ‘Gwen’ avocado. Each was replicated four times, with two replicates planted in each of two locations in southern California (Irvine and Riverside). Data were collected over 4 years (consecutive) on tree height, canopy diameter, and trunk diameter, representing three distinct measures of growth rate. Growth data were found to fit a linear regression over years, so the slope (growth rate) was used in the analyses. In addition, 2 years of data on flower abundance and 1 year on fruit set were also collected. Quantitative genetic analyses of these data showed that broad-sense heritability (H) was 35.5%, 30.3%, and 26.6% for tree height, canopy diameter, and trunk diameter respectively; and 33.8% and 23.0% for flowering abundance and fruit set respectively. No genotype-by-location effect was noted for growth rate; however, flower abundance and fruit set showed a relatively weak genotype-by-location effect (21.9% and 17.1% respectively). The H estimates are low, probably as a result of sources of uncontrolled environmental error associated with variation in initial planting dates, but fall within the range that should permit quantitative trait locus analyses. The authors also found a moderate positive correlation between tree growth rates and fruit set, but none between growth rates and flower abundance. Different pollen parents have significantly different impacts on tree growth rates, flower abundance, and fruit set.

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Lauren C. Garner, Vanessa E.T.M. Ashworth, Michael T. Clegg and Carol J. Lovatt

‘Hass’ avocado (Persea americana Mill.) is characterized by excessive flower and fruit abscission, resulting in extremely low fruit set. Low outcrossing rates might be a factor contributing to low yields. It is hypothesized that self-fertilized flowers and resulting fruit abscise at a much higher rate than fruit that are the product of outcrossing. However, significant relationships between outcrossing rates and yields have only been established in a few avocado studies. The objective of this research was to investigate the importance of outcrossing to yield in a commercial ‘Hass’ orchard containing ‘Bacon’, an effective pollinizer of ‘Hass’. Microsatellite markers were used to determine the rate of outcrossing of fruit persisting to harvest on ‘Hass’ trees. Experiments were conducted during sequential on- and off-crop years. During both years, outcrossing rates were not related to yield or alternate bearing. These results indicate that outcrossing was not the primary factor affecting flower and fruit persistence and ultimately yield in this orchard for the two sequential years of this research.

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Carlos Calderón-Vázquez, Mary L. Durbin, Vanessa E.T.M. Ashworth, Livia Tommasini, Kapua K.T. Meyer and Michael T. Clegg

Avocado (Persea americana) is a subtropical tree prized for its large and nutritious fruit. Although native to Mesoamerica, avocado is now grown in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, and consumer demand for avocado continues to grow at a considerable rate. Despite the appeal of avocado, its genetic improvement has been slow owing to substantial land and labor requirements combined with the fact that young trees do not produce fruit for several years and a pollination system that makes it difficult to produce genetic crosses. Molecular markers promise to accelerate the rate of breeding progress, especially for simple traits of high heritability. One of the distinguishing features of the avocado fruit is the presence of a number of compounds that have been linked to human health. As a prelude to the use of molecular markers for the improvement of nutritional traits, this article reports estimates of the heritability of carotenoids, β-sitosterol, and α-tocopherol content (the most biologically active form of vitamin E) in ripe avocado fruit. Each of these three compounds has been linked to beneficial health outcomes, and each is shown to have a sufficiently high heritability to predict successful marker-assisted selection.

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Vanessa E.T.M. Ashworth, Haofeng Chen, Carlos L. Calderón-Vázquez, Mary Lu Arpaia, David N. Kuhn, Mary L. Durbin, Livia Tommasini, Elizabeth Deyett, Zhenyu Jia, Michael T. Clegg and Philippe E. Rolshausen

The glossy, green-fleshed fruit of the avocado (Persea americana) has been the object of human selection for thousands of years. Recent interest in healthy nutrition has singled out the avocado as an excellent source of several phytonutrients. Yet as a sizeable, slow-maturing tree crop, it has been largely neglected by genetic studies, owing to a long breeding cycle and costly field trials. We use a small, replicated experimental population of 50 progeny, grown at two locations in two successive years, to explore the feasibility of developing a dense genetic linkage map and to implement quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis for seven phenotypic traits. Additionally, we test the utility of candidate-gene single-nucleotide polymorphisms developed to genes from biosynthetic pathways of phytonutrients beneficial to human health. The resulting linkage map consisted of 1346 markers (1044.7 cM) distributed across 12 linkage groups. Numerous markers on Linkage Group 10 were associated with a QTL for flowering type. One marker on Linkage Group 1 tracked a QTL for β-sitosterol content of the fruit. A region on Linkage Group 3 tracked vitamin E (α-tocopherol) content of the fruit, and several markers were stable across both locations and study years. We argue that the pursuit of linkage mapping and QTL analysis is worthwhile, even when population size is small.