Although somatic hybridization techniques are being ignored by variety improvement programs for most commodities, their contribution to citrus variety improvement continues to expand and with increasing complexity. Citrus is one of the few commodities where somatic hybridization is reaching its predicted potential, as somatic hybrids are now possible from most desirable parental combinations. Somatic hybrid citrus plants have been produced from more than 250 parental combinations, including more than 130 at the CREC. The CREC hybrids include 34 from sexually compatible intergeneric combinations, 16 from sexually incompatible combinations, and 81 interspecific combinations. The objective of this report is to demonstrate the impact of somatic hybridization on citrus improvement programs, and to discuss its potential with other commodities. For citrus scion improvement, several applications are aimed at the development of improved seedless fresh fruit varieties, and these include symmetric somatic hybridization, haploid diploid fusion, targeted cybridization to transfer cytoplasmic male sterility (mtCMS) from Satsuma mandarin, and triploidy via interploid crosses using somatic hybrid allotetrapoid breeding parents. For rootstock improvement, symmetric somatic hybridization provides an opportunity to hybridize complementary rootstocks without breaking up successful gene combinations. Rootstock somatic hybridization is providing opportunities for improving disease and insect resistance, soil adaptation, and tree size control. Wide somatic hybridization provides an opportunity for gene transfer from related species, including some that are sexually incompatible. Extensive field research on citrus somatic hybrid rootstocks combined with emerging molecular analyses of citrus has allowed for the development of additional strategies for rootstock improvement. These include rootstock breeding and selection at the tetraploid level using somatic hybrid parents, and the resynthesis of important rootstocks at the tetraploid level via fusion of selected superior parents. Ongoing examples of each strategy will be provided, along with ideas for extending the technology to other commodities.
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Vol. 41 • No. 3