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Biotechnology

Activity in brief ...

Activity in the field of biotechnology has been carried out for some time at the CRA-PLF. Initially the aim was to draw up efficient protocols for in vitro micro-propagation and genetic transformation of different poplar species and clones for useful traits (resistance to biotic and abiotic stress). More recently research has been aimed to management of plant genetic resources, clone identification and to the identification of molecular markers for resistance to biotic adversities, to be used for marker-assisted selection (MAS) within conventional breeding programmes. Particular attention is devoted to diseases such as Marssonina brunnea, rusts (Melampsora spp.) and to the woolly aphid (Phloeomyzus passerinii Sign.), an insect which can cause death in the adult plants attacked.

At present the main activities are focused on:

    • phenotyping of a population of P. nigra, chosen on the basis of provenance;
    • obtaining a genetic map, based on AFLP and SSR markers, for a population deriving from the interspecific crossing between P. deltoides and P. nigra;
    • genotyping of the individuals of the mapping population, and identification of the loci involved in the mechanisms of resistance to rusts, Marssonina brunnea and to the woolly aphid.

Among trees Poplar (Populus spp.) is considered to be a model system due to some peculiarities (dioecious plants, rapid growth and easy vegetative propagation) and to its relatively small genome, by now completely sequenced (Tuskan et al. 2006). Beside the interesting results obtained for P. trichocarpa, other research has resulted in the identification of numerous molecular markers (AFLP, SSR and SNPs) and in their use for the construction of genetic maps in other species, such as P. deltoides and P. nigra. Although the genetic improvement of poplars over the last fifty years has permitted the development of clone cultivars with features of fairly rapid growth, adaptation to varying environmental conditions, genetic resistance to biotic and abiotic agents and good quality wood, certain factors inherent to tree biology (a lengthy juvenile phase, dioecious plants, seasonal dormancy) make conventional breeding programmes lengthy (25-30 years) and labour-intensive.

By applying innovative and integrated approaches, based also on genome analysis and use of molecular markers, it will soon be possible to obtain positive results to employ in assisted breeding programmes (MAS), for managing genetic resources, for the identification of clones and their consequent certification, monitoring, protection and registration. Other possibilities for improvement are due to the relative plasticity and ease of manipulation (Agrobacterium tumefaciensmediated genetic transformation) and in vitro regeneration of cells and tissue from different poplar species and clones. Genetic transformation permits to insert exogenous genes for particular useful traits into clones of proven agronomical value over a relatively short time-span.


General aims and planning strategies
  • To identify with certainty the commercial clones and characterize poplar and willow germplasm for use in land improvement and regeneration projects.
  • To draw up molecular maps for species of rapid growth, using molecular markers.
  • Identifying and sequencing genes influencing both Mandelian characters and quantitative trait loci (QTL).
  • To obtain commercially valuable clones, genetically improved for characters of agronomic interest such as resistance to non-selective weed killers, resistance to pests and diseases, as well as for other traits such as sexual sterility and the capacity to detoxify land with heavy metal pollution.
  • To evaluate the environmental impact and the potential risks of genetically modified plants in a non-contained environment.


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Staff Research concluded () or ACTIVE()
Researchers
Nervo Giuseppe 

Technicians
Calligari Paolo

BIOTEC

TRANS
Genetic transformation of poplars for commercially useful traits