Genetic diversity in Malus ×domestica (Rosaceae) through time in response to domestication

Briana L. Gross, Adam D. Henk, Christopher M. Richards, Gennaro Fazio, Gayle M. Volk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Premise of the study: Patterns of genetic diversity in domesticated plants are affected by geographic region of origin and cultivation, intentional artificial selection, and unintentional genetic bottlenecks. While bottlenecks are mainly associated with the initial domestication process, they can also affect diversity during crop improvement. Here, we investigate the impact of the improvement process on the genetic diversity of domesticated apple in comparison with other perennial and annual fruit crops.

Methods: Apple cultivars that were developed at various times (ranging from the 13th through the 20th century) and 11 of the 15 apple cultivars that are used for 90% of the apple production in the United States were surveyed for genetic diversity based on either 9 or 19 simple sequence repeats (SSRs). Diversity was compared using standard metrics and model-based approaches based on expected heterozygosity (He) at equilibrium. Improvement bottleneck data for fruit crops were also collected from the literature.

Key results: Domesticated apples showed no significant reduction in genetic diversity through time across the last eight centuries. Diversity was generally high, with an average He> 0.7 for apples from all centuries. However, diversity of the apples currently used for the bulk of commercial production was lower.

Conclusions: The improvement bottleneck in domesticated apples appears to be mild or nonexistent, in contrast to improvement bottlenecks in many annual and perennial fruit crops, as documented from the literature survey. The low diversity of the subset of cultivars used for commercial production, however, indicates that an improvement bottleneck may be in progress for this perennial crop.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1770-1779
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Botanical Society of America.


  • Apple
  • Domestication bottleneck
  • Improvement bottleneck
  • Malus ×domestica
  • Perennial crop
  • Rosaceae


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