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Abstract

We studied the effect of qualitative and quantitative variation of saponin content in foliar tissues of four European alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) cultivars (Radius, Sapko, Sitel, Radius line 1) on pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum Harris) development, and the effect of aphid infestation on alfalfa saponin content. Aphids (adult apterae, larvae, and adult alatae) were counted on 3-, 6- and 9-month-old plants (before the first, second and third cutting). Thin-layer chromatography was used to detect and estimate the quantity of the following saponins: 3GlcA, 28AraRhaXyl medicagenic acid; 3Glc, 23Ara, 28AraRhaXylApi zanhic acid (zanhic acid tridesmoside); and 3RhaGalGlcA soyasapogenol B (soyasaponin I). Radius, Sapko, and Sitel contained all three saponins but Radius line 1 did not contain zanhic acid tridesmoside or medicagenic acid glycoside. Saponin content was highest in Radius and lowest in Radius line 1. Regardless of the cultivar, saponin content was higher in aphid-infested than uninfested plants. For all sampling dates, aphid numbers were highest on Radius line 1 and lowest on Radius; that is, aphid numbers were inversely related to saponin content. Alfalfa has a herbivoreinduced defense. Saponin levels increase in the foliage of infested alfalfa. Attempts of plant breeders to reduce saponin content in order to increase alfalfa digestibility for livestock might make the plants more susceptible to aphids and other pests.
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Abstract

Poor seed set is a limiting factor in alfalfa breeding, as it slows the selection response. One strategy used to overcome this problem is to search for mutations of inflorescence morphology. Long-peduncle (lp), branched-raceme (br) and top-flowering (tf) inflorescence mutations increase the number of flowers per inflorescence, but they do not improve seed set per flower. Here we assessed pollen tube growth in styles of those inflorescence mutants and we observed embryo and endosperm development in seeds 1 to 16 days after pollination (DAP). The number of pollen tubes penetrating the style and the ovary was similar in all tested mutants and in the reference cultivar Radius. At 2 DAP, fertilized ovules were 2.7-3.9 times less numerous in certain inflorescence mutants than in the short-raceme cv. Radius. Ovule degeneration progressed at 2-4 DAP in all analyzed plants. Most ovules were not properly developed in the control cultivar (62%), nor in the forms with mutated inflorescence morphology (69-86%). The number of seeds per pod was lowest in the tf form despite its having the highest number of ovules per ovary. It appears that the number of ovules per pistil is not a crucial factor in seed set in alfalfa when fertilization efficiency is very low. Both poor fertilization and gradual ovule degeneration were factors causing poor seed set in the investigated alfalfa genotypes.
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