, Volume 52, Issue 4, pp 145-157

Isozymes, plant population genetic structure and genetic conservation

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Summary

The exploration, conservation and use of the genetic resources of plants is a contemporary issue which requires a multidisciplinary approach. Here the role of population genetic data, particularly those derived from electrophoretic analysis of protein variation, is reviewed. Measures of the geographic structure of genetic variation are used to check on sampling theory. Current estimates justify the contention that alleles which have a highly localised distribution, yet are in high frequency in some neighbourhoods, represent a substantial fraction of the variation. This class, which is the most important class in the framing of sampling strategies, accounts for about 20–30% of variants found in 12 plant species. The importance of documenting possible coadapted complexes and gene-environment relationships is discussed. Furthermore, the genetic structure of natural populations of crop relatives might suggest the best structure to use in the breeding of crops for reduced vulnerability to pest and disease attack, or for adaptation to inferior environments. The studies reported to date show that whilst monomorphic natural populations do occur, particularly in inbreeding colonisers, or at the extreme margins of the distribution, polymorphism seems to be the more common mode. It is stressed here that the genetic resources of the wild relatives of crop plants should be systematically evaluated. These sources will supplement, and might even rival, the primitive land races in their effectiveness in breeding programmes. We may look forward to a wider application of gel electrophoresis in the evaluation of plant genetic resources because this technique is currently the best available for detecting genetic differences close to the DNA level on samples of reasonable size.

Communicated by J.F.S. Barker