Sunflower improvement by conventional breeding is severely restricted by the availability of a rather limited gene pool owing to natural incompatibilities, even between related species, and by the time scale of most breeding programs. Therefore, much attention has been directed recently to the newly emerging and novel technologies of plant cell and molecular biology that provide a powerful means to supplement and complement the traditional methods of plant improvement. The concept of DNA-based markers has revolutionised our ability to direct access to any part of the plant genome, and has led to new opportunities such as map-based cloning and directed plant breeding. Efficient regeneration of fertile plants from cultured cells and protoplats, combined with novel methods of DNA delivery and selection of transformed cells, has resulted in the production of transgenic sunflower. Agronomically useful genes, which confer resistance to insect pests and pathogens, have been introduced. However, further molecular improvement of sunflower could be limited most by the lack of our knowledge about, and access to, important and useful genes (e.g., those controlling multigenic traits like yield, and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses). Therefore, high priority should be given to the development of ultra high density (UHD) linkage maps and the development of new tools for high-throughput genome and expression analyses.
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