Taro [Colocasia esculenta (L) Schott] belongs to the family Araceae. It is an important staple food crop grown mainly by small scale farmers in many parts of the world. Taro is grown in South Africa from the coastal parts of the northern Eastern Cape to the KwaZulu-Natal north coast. Although it is an important staple in South Africa, very little information exists on the genetic diversity of the crop. Knowledge of the genetic diversity of a crop is important for breeding programmes. The aim of this study is to assess the genetic diversity of taro using ITS2 sequencing and assess whether the ITS2 secondary structures could be used as a taxonomic marker to group the taro accessions. Currently, taro accessions in South Africa have not been placed into any type of groups and the accessions are named from the locality where they are collected. The ITS2 sequence data separated the accessions into 4 clusters. The accessions did not group according to geographical locations. The ITS2 secondary structure had one common motif present in all 25 accessions suggesting that it could be used as a taxonomic marker for taro. Other motifs were able to place taro accessions into groups. The discovery of these motifs strengthens the potential of the ITS2 secondary structure as taxonomic marker in taro. The high genetic diversity provides taro breeders a selection of parents for the improvement of taro.
Key word: Root crop, genetic diversity, internal transcribed spacer2.
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