The identification of cassava cultivars is important for understanding the crop’s production system, enabling crop improvement practitioners to design and deliver tailored solutions with which farmers can secure high yields and sustainable production. Across the lowland tropics today, a large number improved varieties and landraces of cassava are under cultivation, making it inefficient for breeders and geneticists to set improvement goals for the crop. The identification and characterization of cassava genotypes is currently based on either morphological characters or molecular features. The major aim of cultivar identification is to catalog the crop’s genetic diversity, but a consensus approach has still not been established. Of the two approaches to the identification of variety, morphological characters seem to account for most of the genetic variability reported in cassava. However, these characters must be treated with caution, as phenotypic changes can be due to environmental and climatic conditions as well as to the segregation of new highly heterozygous populations, thus, making the accurate identification of varieties difficult. The use of molecular markers has allowed researchers to establish accurate relationships between genotypes, and to measure and track their heterozygous status. Since the early 1990’s, molecular geneticists working with cassava have been developing and deploying DNA-based tools for the identification and characterization of landraces or improved varieties. Hence, in the last five years, economists and social scientists have adopted DNA-based variety identification to measure the adoption rates of varieties, and to support the legal protection of breeder’s rights. Despite the advances made in the deployment of molecular markers for cassava, multiple platform adoption, as well as their costs and variable throughput, has limited their use by practitioners of crop improvement of cassava. The post-genomic era has produced a large number of genome and transcriptome sequencing tools, and has increased our capacity to develop and deploy genome-based tools to account for the crop’s genetic variability by accurately measuring and tracking allele diversity. These technologies allow the creation of haplotype catalogs that can be widely shared across the cassava crop improvement community. Low-density genome-wide SNP markers might be the solution for the wide adoption of molecular tools for the identification of cultivars or varieties of cassava. In this review we survey the efforts made in the past 30 years to establish the tools for cultivar identification of cassava in farmer’s fields and gene banks. We also emphasize the need for a global picture of the genetic diversity of this crop, at its center of origin in South America.
Part of the book: Cassava