The development of new varieties of horticultural crops benefits from the integration of conventional and molecular marker-assisted breeding schemes in order to combine phenotyping and genotyping information. In this study, a selected panel of 16 microsatellite markers were used in different steps of a breeding programme of lettuce (Lactuca sativa
L., 2 n
= 18). Molecular markers were first used to genotype 71 putative parental lines and to plan 89 controlled crosses designed to maximise recombination potentials. The resulting 871 progeny plants were then molecularly screened, and their marker allele profiles were compared with the profiles expected based on the parental lines. The average cross-pollination success rate was 68 ± 33%, so 602 F1 hybrids were completely identified. Unexpected genotypes were detected in 5% of cases, consistent with this species’ spontaneous out-pollination rate. Finally, in a later step of the breeding programme, 47 different F3 progenies, selected by phenotyping for a number of morphological descriptors, were characterised in terms of their observed homozygosity and within-population genetic uniformity and stability. Ten of these populations had a median homozygosity above 90% and a median genetic similarity above 95% and are, therefore, particularly suitable for pre-commercial trials. In conclusion, this study shows the synergistic effects and advantages of conventional and molecular methods of selection applied in different steps of a breeding programme aimed at developing new varieties of lettuce.
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