Biodiversity and preservation of vanilla: present state of knowledge
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The genus Vanilla belongs to the Orchidaceae family and Vanilla planifolia, probably endemic from tropical forests in Eastern Mexico, is the main source for commercial vanilla. There has recently been an important number of publications covering Vanilla taxonomy, particularly using molecular genetics, but the taxonomy of the genus is still unclear and numerous synonyms remain. Recent studies showed that inter-specific hybridization and perhaps even polyploidization played an important role in the evolution of the genus. There has also been an important increase in the knowledge of the genetic diversity and reproductive biology of V. planifolia in natural conditions, showing that mating system diversity exists in Vanilla and that this genus could be a good model to study the role of fragrance in orchid evolution. Recent studies on the genetic consequences of V. planifolia domestication are also presented and raise major scientific questions regarding the origin of phenotypic diversity in a vegetatively propagated crop. Finally, all these studies have demonstrated the urgent need for preservation of the genetic resources of V. planifolia (primary and secondary gene pools, and cultivated resources) and current conservation efforts are presented.