MALUS: Studying apple biodiversity: opportunities for conservation and sustainable use of genetics resources



The genetic resources of Malus sylvestris, the apple tree native to Western and Central Europe, are extremely endangered. Forest decline and forest fragmentation have caused a reduction of suitable habitats and today only isolated individuals and small populations are found in Belgium. Moreover, the biodiversity and genetic identity of M. sylvestris is threatened due to possible hybridisation with the omnipresent cultivated apple (M. x domestica). However, for the development of conservation strategies it is of paramount importance to discriminate between ‘genuine’ wild genotypes and genotypes derived from or closely related to cultivated varieties. Recent research pointed out that this goal could be achieved with the use of molecular markers.

Project description


The aim of this project is to develop ‘ready-for-use’ conservation strategies for wild apple biodiversity in Belgium, based on a thorough evaluation of the present diversity within the Malus gene pool. An important part of these strategies will be the establishment of living ex-situ collections. In addition, the information gathered will also provide the apple breeder with basic knowledge and suitable technologies for the exploitation of natural resources of Wild apple in breeding programs.

Specific objectives of the project are:

1. Study the genetic diversity present in wild apple populations and old regional varieties at different levels of organisation: neutral and functional nuclear diversity and cytoplasmic diversity.
2. Analyse past and recent hybridisation processes between wild and cultivated apple gene pools and determine the present degree of distinctness between wild apples and cultivated varieties.
3. Asses the viability of wild apple populations through the analysis of demographic parameters and fertility-related traits.
4. Implement all the above results into conservation guidelines for wild apple in Belgium (in-situ where possible, ex-situ where necessary).
5. Develop an efficient management plan to conserve the biodiversity present in existing collections of old regional varieties.
6. Disseminate these conservation strategies to a wide audience.


First of all, the vast majority of wild apple trees in Belgium will be localised and leaf and graft material collected (we expect to collect ca 700 trees). Material from 500 old cultivated varieties and 100 modern varieties will be included in this study. The phenotypes from all trees will be described, including morphologic parameters and disease resistance traits.

By applying different types of molecular markers, different levels of organisation of genetic diversity will be studied. An in-depth study of the Belgian Malus gene pool will be enabled through use of neutral molecular markers (microsatellites and SSAP, an AFLP-like method to visualise retrotransposon insertions), study of functional diversity (markers derived from sequences of gene families involved in disease resistance and fertility traits) and investigation of phylogenetic origins.

Interaction between the different partners

The corporation between partners is based on a shared interest in the conservation and sustainable use of apple biodiversity. The project brings together experts in different scientific fields: foresters, breeders and molecular biologists. The combination of their expertise warrants the establishment of effective conservation guidelines.

Expected results and/or products

This study will result in an extensive description of the biodiversity of the Belgian Malus gene pool, reveal information on the present distinctness between wild and cultivated apples and provide insights into past and present hybridisation events. Based on these findings, conservation guidelines will be devised together with stakeholders and end users. The participation of many end users to the project provides a strong basis of partners willing to implement the developed conservation guidelines.

The usefulness of wild apple trees and regional varieties to expand the genetic basis of current apple breeding programs will be determined. Finally, the applied techniques and designed strategies will be evaluated for use in conservation programs for related Rosaceae species (Pyrus pyraster, Prunus spinosa, Prunus avium).



The core activity of the Fruitteeltcentrum is apple breeding and improving the breeding efficiency in apple is the main goal of our department. Because disease resistance and self fertility are important breeding aims, physiological and biochemical aspects of these traits and their genetic control are studied.

The department of plant genetics and breeding has long-standing experience in the characterisation of complex plant populations using molecular markers. CLO-DvP focuses on the characterisation of breeding populations and wild relatives, on the conservation of natural plant populations and on variety identification.

The Department of Biotechnology is involved in the characterization of potentially important apple genes and in apple variety identification. The Department of Biological Control & Plant Genetic Resources has long-standing experience conservation, evaluation and valorisation of fruit genetic resources.

Contact Information


Wannes Keulemans
Lobke Vanwynsberghe
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KULeuven)
Fruitteeltcentrum (FTC)
Willem De Croylaan 42
B-3001 Heverlee
Tel: +32 (0)16 32 26 63
Fax: +32 (0)16 32 29 66


Ludo Royen - Subcontractor of KULeuven
Nationale Boomgaardenstichting (NBS)
Postbus 49
B-3500 Hasselt
Tel: +32 (0)12 39 11 88
Fax: +32 (0)12 74 74 38

Isabel Roldán-Ruiz
Els Coart
Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap
Centrum voor Landbouwkundig Onderzoek – Gent (CLO)
Departement Plantengenetica en –veredeling (DvP)
Caritasstraat 21
B-9090 Melle
Tel: +32 (0)9 272 28 82
Fax: +32 (0)9 272 29 01

Kristine Vander Mijnsbrugge - Subcontractor of CLO
Instituut voor Bosbouw en Wildbeheer (IBW)
Gaverstraat 4
B-9500 Geraardsbergen
Tel: +32 (0)54 43 71 46
Fax: +32 (0)54 43 61 60

Bernard Watillon
Marc Lateur
Centre de Recherches Agronomiques de Gemblouw (CRA)
9, rue de Liroux
B-5030 Gembloux
Tel: +32 (0)81 62 73 70 / +32 (0)81 62 03 14
Fax: +32 (0)81 62 73 99

Dominique Jacques - Subcontractor of CRA
Centre de Recherche de la Nature, des Fôrets et du Bois (CRNFB)
23, avenue Maréchal Juin
B-5030 Gembloux
Tel: +32 (0)81 62 64 54
Fax: +32 (0)81 61 57 27

Users Committee

Eckhart Kuijken - Instituut voor Natuurbehoud
Hans Scheirlinck - Vereniging voor Bos in Vlaanderen
Jos De Wael - Vereniging voor Openbaar Groen
Ludo Royen - Nationale boomgaardenstichting vzw
Nigel Cook - Better3fruit nv
Nico Coppé - Min. van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap - Afdeling Bos en Groen
Philippe Blerot - Min. de la Région Wallonne - Division de la Nature et des Fôrets
Willy Ibens - Natuurpunt vzw
Koen Coenen - Vereniging van Vlaamse Provincies
Claude Guiot - Fédération Wallonne de Horticulture




Belgium {Geographical scope}
Agricultural {Habitat type}


Name Role Amount
Science for Sustainable Development unknown


Name Role Start End
Jacques, Dominique member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Lateur, Marc member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Vander Mijnsbrugge, Kristine member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Coart, Els member 2003-01-01 2006-04-01
Roldán-Ruiz, Isabel member 2003-01-01 2006-04-01
Vanwynsberghe, Lobke member 2002-02-01 2006-04-01
Keulemans, Wannes promotor 2002-02-01 2006-04-01


Name Role Start End
Applied Genetics and Breeding member 2003-01-01 2006-04-01
Unité de phytopathologie member
Centre for Fruit Culture leader 2002-02-01 2006-04-01

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

© 2012 by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform