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Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality

Analysis of genetic diversity within Australian lucerne cultivars and implications for future genetic improvement

J. M. Musial, K. E. Basford and J. A. G. Irwin

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 53(6) 629 - 636
Published: 05 June 2002


Lucerne (Medicago sativa L.) is autotetraploid, and predominantly allogamous. This complex breeding structure maximises the genetic diversity within lucerne populations making it difficult to genetically discriminate between populations. The objective of this study was to evaluate the level of random genetic diversity within and between a selection of Australian-grown lucerne cultivars, with tetraploid M. falcata included as a possible divergent control source. This diversity was evaluated using random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPDs). Nineteen plants from each of 10 cultivars were analysed. Using 11 RAPD primers, 96 polymorphic bands were scored as present or absent across the 190 individuals. Genetic similarity estimates (GSEs) of all pair-wise comparisons were calculated from these data. Mean GSEs within cultivars ranged from 0.43 to 0.51. Cultivar Venus (0.43) had the highest level of intra-population genetic diversity and cultivar Sequel HR (0.51) had the lowest level of intra-population genetic diversity. Mean GSEs between cultivars ranged from 0.31 to 0.49, which overlapped with values obtained for within-cultivar GSE, thus not allowing separation of the cultivars. The high level of intra- and inter-population diversity that was detected is most likely due to the breeding of synthetic cultivars using parents derived from a number of diverse sources. Cultivar-specific polymorphisms were only identified in the M. falcata source, which like M. sativa, is outcrossing and autotetraploid. From a cluster analysis and a principal components analysis, it was clear that M. falcata was distinct from the other cultivars. The results indicate that the M. falcata accession tested has not been widely used in Australian lucerne breeding programs, and offers a means of introducing new genetic diversity into the lucerne gene pool. This provides a means of maximising heterozygosity, which is essential to maximising productivity in lucerne.

Keywords: Medicago sativa, PCR, alfalfa, RAPD.

© CSIRO 2002

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