Tree Genetics & Genomes

, 14:68 | Cite as

Unraveling the genetic background of the Yangambi Research Center cacao germplasm collection, DR Congo

  • Hayley RottiersEmail author
  • Helena Everaert
  • Pascal Boeckx
  • Gaston Limba
  • Geert Baert
  • Jocelyn De Wever
  • Kevin Maebe
  • Guy Smagghe
  • Koen Dewettinck
  • Kathy Messens
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Germplasm Diversity


The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo or DRC) has some of the most fertile soils in Africa to cultivate cacao, an important cash crop and source of income for many smallholder farmers. Although cacao is currently produced there on small scale, DRC has the potential to grow as a cacao-producing country, thereby supplying the increasing cacao demand in the global market. Since the introduction of cacao varieties in the late nineteenth century, selection and breeding experiments have been carried out based on phenotype, without any knowledge on the genetic background of the cultivars. Therefore, this study analyzes 62 Congolese accessions of the Centre de Recherche de Yangambi (CRY) and 51 accessions of international collections representing 10 reference groups and Trinitario cultivars using 14 microsatellite markers. Descriptive statistics revealed a high gene diversity and polymorphic information content (PIC) for most of the markers, of which mTcCIR 12, 37, and 60 were the most discriminative. Both Bayesian clustering and principal coordinate analysis (PCoA) revealed high-admixed ancestry of the CRY cultivars. The collection was divided in two clusters, of which the first formed a hybrid population, linked to Amelonado, Trinitario, Marañόn, and Nanay, and the second was assigned to predominantly Amelonado, followed by Nanay, Contamana, and Nacional. This high admixture level resulted from numerous hybridization and recombination events that took place in the previous century. The obtained knowledge is essential for efficient conservation, utilization, and selection of high-quality cacao cultivars, which are agronomical favored, disease resistant, and of superior flavor quality.


Theobroma cacao L. Democratic Republic of the Congo Genetic diversity Population structure Microsatellite markers 



We would like to thank Filip Vandelook and Ann Bogaert from the Botanic Garden Meise for the technical assistance during the sampling of Congolese cacao leaves. Further, we are grateful to Daniel Kadow and Centro Agronόmico Tropical de Investigaciόn y Enseñanza (CATIE), Center for Forestry Research and Technology Transfer (CEFORTT), and International Cocoa Quarantine Centre (ICQC), for providing reference leaf samples.

Funding Information

This research received financial support from BOF (Special Research Fund) of Ghent University (PhD grant)

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11295_2018_1285_MOESM1_ESM.docx (682 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 682 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory AgriFing, Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Laboratory of Food Technology and Engineering, Department of Food technology, Safety and Health, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Isotope Bioscience Laboratory (ISOFYS), Department of Green Chemistry and Technology, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  4. 4.Centre de Recherche de Yangambi, Institut National pour l’Etude et la Recherche AgronomiquesYangambiDemocratic Republic of the Congo
  5. 5.Department of Environment, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  6. 6.Laboratory of Agrozoology, Department of Plants and Crops, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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