Markers revolutionize the procurement, registration, nurseries, and varietal identification of the citrus sector

The term PCR, which is widely used nowadays to refer to the most reliable diagnostic method to detect COVID-19, is based on the same technology that is drastically changing the world of citrus plant variety farming.

Molecular markers can be used to define the genetic sequence of a given coronavirus as well as to get to provide the specific genetic traits of a variety. "Molecular markers are not the future, they are the present," said Francisco Llatser, who directed AVASA for decades. "Their contribution against varietal piracy is having and will have an incalculable economic impact," he added.

Extracting samples to perform the molecular marker test on a mandarin

Llatser made these remarks during a webinar organized by the Gocitrus project. The webinar also served to showcase how this technological revolution is benefiting all the links in this chain: it is accelerating the varietal improvement processes, it reduces the time and tests needed to register varieties, it has perfected control of nursery production, and it's starting to be used in certification and varietal identification systems to avoid fraud.

Jose Antonio Sobrino, the director of the Spanish Office of Plant Varieties, gave a presentation at the webinar. He detailed how the registration process for a new variety was carried out. These studies used to be based exclusively on the analysis of the morphological and phenotypic differential characteristics. The markers technology is changing things. It allows speeding up the process by comparing the candidate variety only with those that are genetically more similar, 'rationalizing the reference collections' (which in citrus -and in general all fruit trees- are huge).

In fact, the UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties) has a working group (IMODDUS) to incorporate these methods to the registration processes and generate databases (specific sequences) and protocols.

Maribel Montero, a lawyer specializing in varietal law and director of AM Legal, said that, from a legal perspective, variety markers are increasingly being used in the courts as judicial evidence and in processes related to cases of varietal piracy.

Llatser, on behalf of the nursery sector, highlighted how the incorporation of this technology has also greatly advanced the way the autonomies control the production and commercialization of plant reproduction material in nurseries. "IVIA's development of selection markers to detect sensitivity to the Alternaria fungus has made it possible to discard hundreds of possible parental varieties to create hybrids accelerating the mandarin improvement process."

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