Background: Eggplant (Solanum melongena L.) is a member of the Solanaceae family. In spite of its widespread cultivation and nutritional and economic importance, its genome has not as yet been extensively investigated. Few analyses have been carried out to determine the genetic diversity of eggplant at the DNA level, and linkage relationships have not been well characterised. As for the other Solanaceae crop species (potato, tomato and pepper), the level of intra-specific polymorphism appears to be rather limited, and so it is important that an effort is made to develop more informative DNA markers to make progress in understanding the genetics of eggplant and to advance its breeding. The aim of the present work was to develop a set of functional microsatellite (SSR) markers, via an in silico analysis of publicly available DNA sequence.
Results: From >3,300 genic DNA sequences, 50 SSR-containing candidates suitable for primer design were recovered. Of these, 39 were functional, and were then applied to a panel of 44 accessions, of which 38 were cultivated eggplant varieties, and six were from related Solanum species. The usefulness of the SSR assays for diversity analysis and taxonomic discrimination was demonstrated by constructing a phylogeny based on SSR polymorphisms, and by the demonstration that most were also functional when tested with template from tomato, pepper and potato. As a results of BLASTN analyses, several eggplant SSRs were found to have homologous counterparts in the phylogenetically related species, which carry microsatellite motifs in the same position.
Conclusion: The set of eggplant EST-SSR markers was informative for phylogenetic analysis and genetic mapping. Since EST-SSRs lie within expressed sequence, they have the potential to serve as perfect markers for genes determining variation in phenotype. Their high level of transferability to other Solanaceae species can be used to provide anchoring points for the integration of genetic maps across species.