Progressive erosion of genetic and epigenetic variation in callus-derived cocoa (Theobroma cacao) plants


Author for correspondence:
Michael J. Wilkinson
Tel: +44 (0) 0197 062 2949


  • Relatively little is known about the timing of genetic and epigenetic forms of somaclonal variation arising from callus growth. We surveyed for both types of change in cocoa (Theobroma cacao) plants regenerated from calli of various ages, and also between tissues from the source trees.
  • For genetic change, we used 15 single sequence repeat (SSR) markers from four source trees and from 233 regenerated plants. For epigenetic change, we used 386 methylation-sensitive amplified polymorphism (MSAP) markers on leaf and explant (staminode) DNA from two source trees and on leaf DNA from 114 regenerants.
  • Genetic variation within source trees was limited to one slippage mutation in one leaf. Regenerants were far more variable, with 35% exhibiting at least one mutation. Genetic variation initially accumulated with culture age but subsequently declined. MSAP (epigenetic) profiles diverged between leaf and staminode samples from source trees. Multivariate analysis revealed that leaves from regenerants occupied intermediate eigenspace between leaves and staminodes of source plants but became progressively more similar to source tree leaves with culture age.
  • Statistical analysis confirmed this rather counterintuitive finding that leaves of ‘late regenerants’ exhibited significantly less genetic and epigenetic divergence from source leaves than those exposed to short periods of callus growth.