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Characterization and potential utilization of recently available milk thistle, Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn., wild type and mutant accessions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2021

Tommaso Martinelli*
Council for Agricultural Research and Economics – Research Centre for Plant Protection and Certification (CREA – DC), Loc. Cascine del Riccio, Via di Lanciola 12/A, 50125, Firenze, Italy
Karin Baumann
Genebank Department, Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), Corrensstr. 3, D-06466Seeland, OT Gatersleben, Germany
Andreas Börner
Genebank Department, Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), Corrensstr. 3, D-06466Seeland, OT Gatersleben, Germany
Author for correspondence: Tommaso Martinelli, E-mail:


Milk thistle, Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. (Asteraceae), is an economically important medicinal plant utilized for silymarin production. Moreover, the species has been positively evaluated for vegetable oil and biomass production. Despite these positive characteristics, milk thistle is still marked by traits that are typical of undomesticated species (most importantly natural fruit dispersal at maturity) and requires further genetic improvement for its complete exploitation. This manuscript summarizes all the information collected through time about a collection of nine milk thistle wild and mutant lines and it discusses the possible further utilization of these genotypes. The accessions are characterized by interesting traits related to: fruit silymarin composition (S. marianum chemotype A and B), fruit fatty acid composition (high oleic and high stearic acid lines), fruit condensed tannins content, vegetative biomass composition (modification of xylans or lignin content), vegetative biomass structure (dwarf and tall lines), modifications of leaf variegation (hypervareigated line) and different types of fruit shatter resistance at maturity. All the lines underwent subsequent generations of selfing and are stable for all the described traits. The accessions will be made available at the Genebank of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK, Gatersleben) and may prove to be a useful genetic material for the improvement of qualitative fruit traits (silymarin quality, fatty acid composition) and for the further development of shatter-resistant S. marianum genotypes towards the complete domestication of this promising species.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of NIAB

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