The FRUITFULL (FUL) and SHATTERPROOF (SHP) genes are involved in regulating fruit development and dehiscence in Arabidopsis. We tested the hypothesis that this class of genes are also involved in regulating the development of fleshy fruits, by exploring genetic and phenotypic variation within the apple (Malus domestica) gene pool. We isolated and characterised the genomic sequences of two candidate orthologous FUL-like genes, MdMADS2.1 and MdMADS2.2. These were mapped using the reference population ‘Prima x Fiesta’ to loci on Malus linkage groups LG14 and LG06, respectively. An additional MADS-box gene, MdMADS14, shares high amino acid identity with the Arabidopsis SHATTERPROOF1/2 genes and was mapped to Malus linkage group LG09. Association analysis between quantitative fruit flesh firmness estimates of ‘Prima x Fiesta’ progeny and the MdMADS2.1, MdMADS2.2 and MdMADS14 loci was carried out using a mixed model analysis of variance. This revealed a significant association (P < 0.01) between MdMADS2.1 and fruit flesh firmness. Further evidence for the association between MdMADS2.1 and fruit flesh firmness was obtained using a case–control population-based genetic association approach. For this, a polymorphic repeat, (AT)n, in the 3′ UTR of MdMADS2.1 was used as a locus-specific marker to screen 168 apple accessions for which historical assessments of fruit texture attributes were available. This analysis revealed a significant association between the MdMADS2.1 and fruit flesh firmness at both allelic (χ 2 = 34, df = 9, P < 0.001) and genotypic (χ 2 = 57, df = 32, P < 0.01) levels
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