Willow Genome Sequencing & Bioinformatics Integration Project

Lead Research Organisation: Earlham Institute
Department Name: UNLISTED


BSBEC-BioMASS (the Perennial Energy Crops programme within BSBEC) is providing the underpinning science needed to improve short rotation coppice (SRC) willow as a key UK biomass feedstock for renewable fuels and bioproducts. This project builds on unique genetic resources in SRC willow available at Rothamsted Research. Initial targets will be growth traits associated with increased yield and increased conversion of the biomass to usable products.

In order to aid the BSBEC-BioMASS consortium to bridge the gap between phenotype and genotype in relation to the key target traits under pursuit, a draft reference sequence for Salix viminalis will be generated. The reference will be assembled, annotated and made publicly available via a genome browser and through deposition of the sequence into the appropriate public archives. In addition the genomes of ten parents of willow mapping populations and a further 22 members of an association mapping diversity panel will be resequenced. Variations within these 32 accessions will be identified and made publicly available, which will enable fine mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTL). Candidate mutations within genes contained in QTL regions can then be readily identified and selected for downstream investigation, improving the efficiency of gene discovery work based on QTL.


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Description This project seeks to understand the genetics basis of willow growth and biomass. For that we sequenced and analysed a number of individuals from the willow biomass collection at Rothamsted Research. This study provides clear evidence of structure in the European Salix accessions from collections in the UK and Sweden and samples from natural populations. The distribution of phenotypic variation and possible signs of ongoing natural selection, particularly for leaf senescence and growth cessation traits, and the geographical clines supported by this work, could be taken into consideration when selecting breeding material for different climatic zones.
Exploitation Route The work has characterised a number of biological markers that can be used for the breeding of willows with specific advantageous traits.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description Genetic improvement through breeding is one of the key approaches to increasing biomass supply. This work supported the breeding progress for the perennial biomass crops of the Salix family) that have high output-input energy ratios. The genomic data generated also supported the development of faster and more precise breeding using molecular breeding techniques. Willow cultivars are commercially deployed as clones. At local and regional level, the most advanced cultivars in each crop are at technology readiness levels which could be scaled to planting rates of thousands of hectares per year with existing commercial developers. Investment in further development of better cultivars is subject to current market failure and the long breeding cycles. A sustained public investment in breeding plays a key role in delivering future mass-scale deployment this crop.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services