The olive (Olea europaea) is one of the most important oleaginous crops of the Mediterranean basin. Increased demand for olive oil creates a need for new olive varieties to help meet the requirements of the global market. However, olive breeding has been handicapped by such varied challenges as a prolonged juvenile period, agrotechnical problems and insufficient genetic knowledge. The use of DNA markers has the potential to overcome these problems and increase the effectiveness of classical breeding programmes. In this study, co-dominant polymorphic simple sequence repeats (SSRs) were used as markers to analyse the genetic relationships between several local and other 'non-native' olive cultivars. Cluster analysis revealed four major groups among the 15 cultivars examined in this study. Table and oil cultivars were clustered in different groups. However, the clusters did not differentiate between cultivars of different geographical origins. In addition, we used the data gathered to analyse genetic relationships to evaluate the effects of heterosis in agricultural traits. Genetic distances between cultivars were determined based on the SSR genotype data and were used for evaluating the possible effects of heterosis in various F1 populations. Interestingly, phenotypic data of F1 progenies from crosses between different cultivars indicated the potential effects of heterosis as expressed in several traits. Genetic distance between parents was significantly correlated to F1 performance for three traits: percentage of dry fruit weight, oil content and commercial oil production. Thus, crosses between olive cultivars exhibiting relatively extensive genetic distances one from the other are expected to result in better progeny performance in future Olea breeding programmes. Our study linked assessment of biodiversity of commercial olive cultivars with the application of this information in olive breeding programmes for selection of specific parents to generate superior new cultivars.
- Breeding programme