Up until today, apple sport mutants proved to be indistinguishable from each other and their progenitors at the molecular level using random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD), amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and simple sequence repeat (SSR) marker techniques. This is not surprising, since the genomes of these somatic mutants differ on...ly in one or a few small regions that affect economically important characteristics, such as improved fruit colour, size, or flavour. In most cases, these genome differences are probably caused by retrotransposons which are able to convert their RNA transcripts to DNA with reverse transcriptase enzyme prior to reinsertion, but unable to leave the genome and infect other cells. Retrotransposon insertions can alter the expression of other genes and/or the structure of encoded proteins. The sequence-specific amplified polymorphism (S-SAP) technique is capable of revealing the genetic distribution of retrotransposable elements over the whole genome. The present study used this approach to try to characterize and distinguish 'Jonathan' somatic mutants via fingerprinting, which is an unsolved problem.
Altogether 40, mainly old Hungarian apple varieties were screened with six previously described microsatellite markers. A total of 71 polymorphic alleles were detected (average 11.8 alleles/locus) and the heterozygosity of markers averaged very high (0.8). The genetic variability among the genotypes proved to be so remarkable that as few as three ...markers from the applied six were enough to distinguish between the 40 varieties. This was also confirmed by the cumulative probability of obtaining identical allele patterns for two randomly chosen apple genotypes for all loci, which value was quite low: 2.53 x 10-5. The molecular identification of these genetically very different old apple genotypes could be very useful in future breeding programs.