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Trends in genetic diversity among European maize cultivars and their parental components during the past 50 years


It has been claimed that the system that delivers the products of plant breeding reduces the diversity of cultivated varieties leading to an increased genetic vulnerability. The main goal of our study was to monitor the temporal trends in genetic diversity over the past five decades among maize cultivars with the largest acreage in Central Europe. Our objectives were to (1) investigate how much of the genetic diversity present in important adapted open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) has been captured in the elite flint germplasm pool, (2) examine changes in the genetic diversity among the most important commercial hybrids as well as in their dent and flint parents, (3) analyze temporal changes in allele frequencies between the dent and flint parental inbreds, and (4) investigate linkage disequilibrium (LD) trends between pairs of loci within the set of parental dent and flint lines. We examined 30 individuals of five prominent OPVs from Central Europe, 85 maize hybrids of economic importance, and their dent and flint parental components with 55 SSRs. LD was significant at probability level P=0.01 for 20.2% of the SSR marker pairs in the 82 dent lines and for 17.2% in the 66 flint lines. The dent and flint heterotic groups were clearly separated already at the beginning of hybrid breeding in Central Europe. Furthermore, the genetic variation within and among varieties decreased significantly during the five decades. The five OPVs contain numerous unique alleles that were absent in the elite flint pool. Consequently, OPVs could present useful sources for broadening the genetic base of elite maize breeding germplasm.

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This research was part of project ‘Genetic Diversity in Agriculture: Temporal Flux, Sustainable Productivity and Food Security’, which was supported by a research grant from the European Union in Framework 5 “Quality of life and management of living resources program” (QLRT-2000–00934). We gratefully acknowledge the technical assistance of Ms. E. Kokai-Kota in generating part of the SSR data.

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Correspondence to Albrecht E. Melchinger.

Additional information

Communicated by A. Charcosset

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Reif, J.C., Hamrit, S., Heckenberger, M. et al. Trends in genetic diversity among European maize cultivars and their parental components during the past 50 years. Theor Appl Genet 111, 838–845 (2005).

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  • European maize
  • Genetic diversity
  • Linkage disequilibrium
  • SSRs
  • Temporal trends