Genetic markers

Through the application of basic genetic and biochemical concepts, significant improvement of commercially relevant plant species has taken place in the last decades. This was mainly achieved by selecting those variants that exhibit a desirable trait. However, these phenotype-based strategies are limited, and their success relies on the degree of heritability, the influence of the environment and the accuracy of the method used to measure the specific trait.

Most of these difficulties are overcome through direct genotyping using molecular markers: DNA sequences that are directly associated with the phenotypic trait. The marker-aided selection (MAS) used in plant breeding allows increased efficiency due to the unequivocal identification of the desired variant. Considering the information stored in plant DNA is not normally altered along its life cycle, this analysis is independent of environmental conditions, and evaluating the DNA content at earlier stages of development (e.g. seedlings or seeds) accelerates the selection process.

Molecular markers are useful genetic tools for varietal identification considering each variety within a given species has unique DNA sequences. This analysis allows the determination of varietal purity within a lot and fosters a more transparent commercial flow.

The microsatellite markers (STRs/SSRs) and the single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are among the most frequently used DNA molecular markers. STRs are tandem repeats of short DNA sequences that differ even in highly similar genomes (e.g. genetic varieties within the same plant species). SNPs consist of variations at a specific position (base) in the DNA molecule, and exhibit high heritability over generations. These subtle variations are thus used as markers of chromosomal positions linked to a given trait of interest.

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