The cultivated apple is a major fruit crop in temperate zones. Its wild relatives, distributed across temperate Eurasia and growing in diverse habitats, represent potentially useful sources of diversity for apple breeding. We review here the most recent findings on the genetics and ecology of apple domestication and its impact on wild apples. Genetic analyses have revealed a Central Asian origin for cultivated apple, together with an unexpectedly large secondary contribution from the European crabapple. Wild apple species display strong population structures and high levels of introgression from domesticated apple, and this may threaten their genetic integrity. Recent research has revealed a major role of hybridization in the domestication of the cultivated apple and has highlighted the value of apple as an ideal model for unraveling adaptive diversification processes in perennial fruit crops. We discuss the implications of this knowledge for apple breeding and for the conservation of wild apples.
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