Apple breeding is active worldwide and yet the apple crop is in a precarious state as it relies on few dominant cultivars and only the Rvi6 (formerly Vf) gene, that confers resistance to scab, has been extensively exploited in the cultivars entered the market in recent years. However, there are some 20 disease resistance genes described in apple and the apple germplasm includes thousands of accessions in the repositories. In this paper, a breeding programme is described, whereby 36 genotypes, including ancient and contemporary apple cultivars, were crossed to produce a new set of selections that combine extensive genetic resources with pyramided resistance genes to several apple diseases, such as scab and powdery mildew. The 110 cross combinations carried out successfully, of the 260 initially planned, produced 7,876 offsprings, reduced to 2,969 after screening with molecular markers associated with five resistance genes. Selections with three or two resistance genes and good agronomic characteristics were kept for further field observations with the aims of creating new cultivars for the market and new parents for future breeding projects.
Keywords: fruit crop, fruit genetics, fruit breeding, pathogen-resistant genes, marker-assisted breeding, sustainable agriculture, horticulture