Accelerating breeding for biomass yield in short rotation coppice willow by exploiting knowledge of shoot development in Arabidopsis

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Unlisted

Abstract

Willows are among the most advanced UK biomass crop. The coppicing response of willows allows them to be grown in short rotation coppice cycles. Coppicing ability varies and willows with more (thin) stems or few (thick) stems can both yield highly. These differences relate to the number, position and outgrowth of pre-existing buds in the coppiced stools kept dormant by apical dominance but little is known about the genetic control of these processes in willows. In Arabidopsis there is substantive knowledge on the regulation of bud formation and bud activity. In collaboration with University of York we have shown that the more axillary branching (MAX) genes, that affect branching in Arabidopsis, co-associate in inheritance with biomass yield in willow. This collaborative project will test the hypothesis that they are involved in determining bud behaviour and thus coppicing potential in willow. We aim to build a model of the genetic regulation of shoot number and shoot outgrowth in coppiced willows and provide markers for the genes involved, thus facilitating selection of improved biomass willows in breeding. This aim will be achieved through four objectives, each testing a specific hypothesis:
Objective 1: To test the hypothesis that members of the MAX or TCP gene families are involved in regulating bud behaviour in coppicing response of SRC willows
Objective 2: To test the hypothesis that bud number and bud behaviour are under separate control in coppicing response
Objective 3: To test the hypothesis that through Arabidopsis, other genes influencing coppicing can be identified
Objective 4: To test the hypothesis that the identification of genes controlling coppicing can accelerate breeding for high biomass yield.

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