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Genetic diversity of Stone Fruit trees (Peach, Apricot and Cherry) in Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia

Final Report Summary - STONE (Genetic diversity of Stone Fruit trees (Peach, Apricot and Cherry) in Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia)

In stone fruits, breeders aim at satisfying consumer tastes and meeting industrial constrains by producing fruits with sought flavor, color and texture and resistant to damage due to transport. Those quality criteria have to be associated with health-related properties of the fruit, reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Thus, stone fruit breeding programs need to include pests and disease resistance objectives. Sharka, caused by the quarantine Plum pox potyvirus (PPV) is the most serious disease met by European stone fruit production. In addition, in the context of global warming, breeding programs for most crops will have to face new challenging questions regarding the maintenance of high quality fruit production in non-optimal climatic conditions (in particular increasing mild periods during autumn and winter, hot and drought periods with limited water resources during fruit maturation). This implies that further researches on the capacity of fruit tree species to adapt to climatic constraints emerge as a key feature to investigate. Finally, to maintain their economic position among temperate tree fruits in the world and face the challenges listed above, stone fruit breeding programs will have to introduce a number of favorable traits in high value varieties. This introduction presently remains a difficult task due to the complexity of the studied plants and genetic determinisms of the target traits. The first limiting step will be the identification of adequate genitors and thus of pools of diversity. Such strategy starts with the evaluation of the diversity present in European germplasm and the comparison with diversity remaining in the basin of origin and diversification of the species (Caucasia, Central Asia and China).
The STONE project addressed scientific issues related to stone fruit (Prunus species) biodiversity. It was a four-year coordinated joint program of staff exchange for short and medium periods between two European organizations (INRA in France, JKI in Germany), an associated (Inonu University in Turkey) and two ICPC third countries (Azerbaijan Genetic Resource institute and in China, the Liaoning Institute of Pomology and Jiangsu Institute of Horticulture). The STONE IRSES scheme was designed to provide opportunities of mobility to 42 researchers and support research staff, for a total number of 80 months over 4 years. The program of exchange was intended to develop common tools and to jointly use these tools for the comparison of the genetic biodiversity in the European, Caucasian and Central Asian Apricot, Peach and Cherry germplasm.

Through the close collaboration between partners of European, Associated and third countries, STONE allowed to define a pool of Prunus material representing the largest part of the intra-specific diversity of alleles and phenotypic variability, mostly in apricot and to a lower extent, in peach and cherry. It displays a wide range of alleles within a moderate size of population with high resolution and it will be used in a close future in association studies for the exploration of the genetic basis of evolution as well as the genetic determinism of target agronomic traits.

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