Molecular markers indicate two cryptic, genetically divergent populations of Russian thistle (Salsola tragus) in California.
Genetic variability among accessions of S. tragus [S. kali subsp. tragus] from California, USA, was investigated using alloenzymes and DNA-based molecular markers. Aspartate aminotransferase and 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase displayed two multienzyme phenotypes that were widespread in plants throughout the state. Random amplified polymorphic DNA analysis was conducted on samples of the two isoenzymic phenotypes collected throughout California, as well as additional accessions from France and Turkey and S. paulsenii. Six primers produced 23 polymorphic bands. Analysis of the patterns of bands by calculation of simple matching coefficients and cluster analysis confirmed the genetic distinctness of the two isoenzymic phenotypes of S. tragus; S. paulsenii was markedly different from both types. Mean fruit weights from plants grown under similar conditions were different between the two types as well. These results and preliminary cytological analysis together suggest that the two types are actually two different species of Salsola, only one of which has been previously recognized. Analysis of the DNA-based markers suggests that one of the genetic entities may be closely related to Salsola found in Europe, while the area of origin of the second entity is currently obscure.