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Mol Ecol. 2006 Jul;15(8):2171-82.

Chloroplast diversity in the genus Malus: new insights into the relationship between the European wild apple (Malus sylvestris (L.) Mill.) and the domesticated apple (Malus domestica Borkh.).

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  • 1Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO), Plant Genetics and Breeding Section, Caritasstraat 21, B-9090 Melle, Belgium.


To unravel the relationship between the European wild apple, Malus sylvestris (L.) Mill., and its domesticated relative M. domestica Borkh., we studied chloroplast DNA variation in 634 wild and 422 domesticated accessions originating from different regions. Hybridization between M. sylvestris and M. domestica was checked using 10 nuclear microsatellites and a Bayesian assignment approach. This allowed us to identify hybrids and feral plants escaped from cultivation. Sixty-eight genotypes belonging to 12 other wild Malus species, including 20 M. sieversii (Ledeb.) Roem. accessions were also included in the analysis of chloroplast diversity. Marker techniques were developed to type a formerly described duplication and a newly detected transversion in the matK gene. Chloroplast DNA variation was further investigated using PCR-RFLP (Polymerase Chain Reaction-Random Fragment Length Polymorphism), and haplotypes were constructed based on all mutational combinations. A closer relationship than presently accepted between M. sylvestris and M. domestica was established at the cytoplasmic level, with the detection of eight chloroplast haplotypes shared by both species. Hybridization between M. sylvestris and M. domestica was also apparent at the local level with sharing of rare haplotypes among local cultivars and sympatric wild trees. Indications of the use of wild Malus genotypes in the (local) cultivation process of M. domestica and cytoplasmic introgression of chloroplast haplotypes into M. sylvestris from the domesticated apple were found. Only one of the M. sieversii trees studied displayed one of the three main chloroplast haplotypes shared by M. sylvestris and M. domestica. This is surprising as M. sieversii has formerly been described as the main maternal progenitor of the domesticated apple. This study hereby reopens the exciting discussion on the origin of M. domestica.

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