Introgression of new genes from Saccharum officinarum
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Modern sugarcane cultivars are derived from two main ancestral species: Saccharum officinarum, which is the main source of high sucrose levels, and S. spontaneum. Only a small number of clones of either species have ever been incorporated into commercial cane breeding programs around the world. While incremental gains in cane yield and ratooning have been made by sugarcane breeders over the last 40 years sugarcane, there is concern that improvement in CCS has been very limited. One hypothesis for this is that because of the limited genetic base of sugarcane favourable alleles for high CCS in the breeding parent pool have already been fixed in current cultivars. If this hypothesis is correct then new genetic diversity will need to be introgressed from germplasm outside current breeding programs. Clones of S. officinarum, available in germplasm collections may provide a source of valuable high sucrose genes. However, introgression breeding using traditional breeding technologies is long term and high risk. The development of new DNA marker techniques has provided new opportunities for improving introgression breeding. These techniques provide a means to (i) characterise diversity within germplasm collections, (ii) identify genes or chromosomal regions, termed quantitative trait loci (QTL), from wild parents which cause positive or negative effects on important traits, which may then be selected for or against during breeding cycles. With this background in mind, this project had two concurrent aims: (i) To characterise a collection of S. officinarum clones for important phenotypic traits and for genetic diversity using DNA markers and identify a set of these for future breeding efforts; (ii) Using case study populations, to assess the value of using DNA marker assisted selection in introgression breeding in sugarcane. A range of candidate S. officinarum x commercial parent crosses were made at the start of the project using a random sample of S. officinarum clones not previously used in our breeding breeding program. From these a “case study” population was chosen for detailed investigation using DNA markers. Two of the progeny were subsequently chosen for “backcrossing” again to proven commercial parents to produce two other “backcross” populations. Concurrently, the collection of 282 S. officinarum clones in the Australian collection was also characterised using DNA markers, along with 147 parent clones in the Australian core breeding program. A subset of 158 S. officinarum clones, recently imported from overseas, was also evaluated in a field trial for CCS and cane yield across a plant and two ratoon crops.