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Virginia Tech Wins $1.5M for Tree Genomics Study

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Scientists at Virginia Tech have landed a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to use population genomics and whole-genome mapping to learn more about the mechanisms that enable trees to survive extreme winters and adapt to varying climates.

Researchers will use the five-year grant to focus on understanding the genomic basis of endodormancy, which enables some plants to survive freezing and dehydration and is controlled by the genomes of certain deciduous trees. The efforts will focus on studying the genomic structure of a tree in the Populus genus, which includes poplar, cottonwoods, and aspen trees, with the hopes of learning knowledge that could be useful in adapting management strategies for dealing with climate change.

The studies will integrate population genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology and will include field work and interdisciplinary education and training programs.

Specifically, the Virginia Tech researchers will use sequence capture technology to retrieve exons and regulatory sequences for all expressed genes in the black cottonwood tree, and captured targets will then be sequenced in a large black cottonwood mapping population that spans most of the range of the species.

The study also will involve the hunt for genotype-phenotype associations for three traits, timing of budset, timing of budflush, and cold hardiness, and associations will be sought with climate variables that affect these traits.

Positive associations the researchers find will be validated in a separate cohort of poplar clones as well as in the trembling aspen and the eastern cottonwood.

A web-based bioinformatics resource will be developed to disseminate the data from the research, including sequence data, SNP data, and information about SNP associations.

"This work will provide by far the most comprehensive picture to date of the genomic basis for local adaptation to climate in a tree species," Virginia Tech said in the grant summary. "In addition to answering long standing questions in evolutionary ecology about the genomic architecture of adaptation, this work will provide a link to practical breeding applications that can exploit naturally occurring ecologically-relevant genetic variation for tree improvement in a changing climate."

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