A comparative analysis of genetic variation in rootstocks and scions of old olive trees - a window into the history of olive cultivation practices and past genetic variation

Oz Barazani*, Erik Westberg, Nir Hanin, Arnon Dag, Zohar Kerem, Yizhar Tugendhaft, Mohammed Hmidat, Thameen Hijawi, Joachim W. Kadereit

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Background: Past clonal propagation of olive trees is intimately linked to grafting. However, evidence on grafting in ancient trees is scarce, and not much is known about the source of plant material used for rootstocks. Here, the Simple Sequence Repeat (SSR) marker technique was used to study genetic diversity of rootstocks and scions in ancient olive trees from the Levant and its implications for past cultivation of olives. Leaf samples were collected from tree canopies (scions) and shoots growing from the trunk base (suckers). A total of 310 trees were sampled in 32 groves and analyzed with 14 SSR markers.Results: In 82.7% of the trees in which both scion and suckers could be genotyped, these were genetically different, and thus suckers were interpreted to represent the rootstock of grafted trees. Genetic diversity values were much higher among suckers than among scions, and 194 and 87 multi-locus genotypes (MLGs) were found in the two sample groups, respectively. Only five private alleles were found among scions, but 125 among suckers. A frequency analysis revealed a bimodal distribution of genetic distance among MLGs, indicating the presence of somatic mutations within clones. When assuming that MLGs differing by one mutation are identical, scion and sucker MLGs were grouped in 20 and 147 multi-locus lineages (MLLs). The majority of scions (90.0%) belonged to a single common MLL, whereas 50.5% of the suckers were single-sample MLLs. However, one MLL was specific to suckers and found in 63 (22.6%) of the samples.Conclusions: Our results provide strong evidence that the majority of olive trees in the study are grafted, that the large majority of scions belong to a single ancient cultivar containing somatic mutations, and that the widespread occurrence of one sucker genotype may imply rootstock selection. For the majority of grafted trees it seems likely that saplings were used as rootstocks; their genetic diversity probably is best explained as the result of a long history of sexual reproduction involving cultivated, feral and wild genotypes.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number146
JournalBMC Plant Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 28 May 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the German Research Foundation's (DFG) trilateral program (Grant No. KA 635/14). We are thankful to Prof. Shimon Lavee and Mr. Isaac Zipori (Agricultural Research Organization, Israel) for their valuable contributions to this study.


  • Domestication
  • Grafting
  • Microsatellites
  • Olive cultivars
  • Propagation


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