Hybridization

Hybridization is the traditional method of tree fruit breeding and remains the dominant technology for cultivar development. This method has passed the test of time, and most of our major fruit cultivars are products of uncontrolled or controlled hybridization, with mutations of these hybrids producing additional cultivars. Uncontrolled hybridization involves little more than collecting seed from trees that may be self- or cross-pollinated or a mixture of both. Controlled hybridization is the technique of applying pollen of the selected male parent to the receptive stigma of the selected female parent. In the case of self-compatible species, such as peach, covering trees with an insect-proof material ensures self-pollination. Although simple in concept, controlled pollination requires in-depth knowledge of crop biology and relies on exacting techniques for maximizing the number of hybrid progeny. Many of these techniques are described in Janick and Moore (1975, 1996) and Moore and Janick (1983).

Seed resulting from hybridization are collected and planted. The resulting progeny is generally a heterozygous, heterogeneous population expressing diverse genetic traits. Seedlings are evaluated for the traits of interest. The desired traits are expected to result from the combination of desirable traits inherited from both parents, although undesirable traits are also inherited by the progeny. Under ideal conditions, the inheritance of the trait(s) of interest is known and there is an expected proportion of the population that carries one or more of the traits. More often, since many tree fruit traits follow a complex, multigenic pattern of inheritance, the inheritance of many traits is not known and there is little to do but evaluate the phenotype of the progeny. Such testing may require artificial inoculations to evaluate disease and insect resistance in the greenhouse, field, and in storage; evaluation of fruit, including quality and storage characteristics; and productivity data. Data are generally collected in multiple years in multiple locations before a cultivar is released for commercial use.

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