Apple Breeding: Marker-Assisted Selection and Beyond
Apple breeding is very active all around the world with more than twenty scientific institutions involved and private companies and some 300 thousand seedlings screened each year. The story of apple breeding has followed the steps of any crop with the exception that the frequent occurrence of sport mutations and the discovery of chance seedlings has produced many varieties of the market that flanked those obtained through controlled crosses. The conventional breeding based on the cross of good parents and followed by phenotypic selection took the stage for long time. Studies on the heritability of traits can be found in the literature, but other genetic studies that would help the selection of cross parents, like the analysis of combining ability (CA), are rather rare. In the 1980s the molecular markers became popular among apple geneticists and helped to produce linkage maps and to assist breeders in the so called marker-assisted selection. In the very last years, thanks to the apple genome sequence that provided hundreds of thousand SNP markers easily accommodated on DNA-chips, a new approach to breeding based on the genome-wide estimation of breeding value (GWEBV) of parents and offsprings, without any preliminary knowledge on marker-traits association appeared on the scene. This paper discusses the evolution of apple breeding by commenting the steps briefly outlined above.
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