Genetic and environmental control of fruit maturation, dry matter and firmness in apple (Malus x domestica Borkh.)
For any given genotype, the environment in which an apple is grown can influence the properties of the fruit considerably. While there has been extensive research on the mechanism of the genetic control of fruit quality traits, less effort has been made to investigate the way that these genetic mechanisms interact with the environment. To address this issue, we employed a large ‘Royal Gala’ 3 ‘Braeburn’ population of 572 seedlings replicated over sites in three climatically diverse apple-growing regions in New Zealand. Phenotyping for traits including fruit maturation timing, firmness and dry matter content was performed at each of these three sites for a single growing season (2011), and at two sites (Motueka and Hawke’s Bay) for two seasons (2009 and 2010). The phenotype data collected over 2 years at two sites enabled the detection of 190 quantitative trait loci (QTL) that controlled these traits regardless of year or growing location, as well as some chromosomal loci that influenced the traits in a single given environment or year. For those loci that were environmentally stable over three sites, there was an interdependency of fruit maturation date, dry matter content and storage potential within this population, with two regions on Linkage Groups (LGs) 10 and 16 strongly contributing. If these loci were used in a marker-assisted selection programme to select for progeny bearing firmer fruit, this would have the unintentional consequence of selecting, high dry matter content, later maturing apples. In addition, a further 113 new QTLs with a smaller effect were identified, some of which were exhibited only in a single growing environment, demonstrating the underlying complexity of control of traits determining fruit quality, in addition to the need for being aware of environmental effects when developing new apple varieties.
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