Recombinant DNA modification of gibberellin metabolism alters growth rate and biomass allocation in Populus

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© 2015, The Author(s). Overexpression of genes that modify gibberellin (GA) metabolism and signaling have been previously shown to produce trees with improved biomass production but highly disturbed development. To examine if more subtle types of genetic modification of GA could improve growth rate and modify tree architecture, we transformed a model poplar genotype (Populus tremula × P. alba) with eight genes, including two cisgenes (intact copies of native genes), four intragenes (modified copies of native genes), and two transgenes (from sexually incompatible species), and studied their effects under greenhouse and field conditions. In the greenhouse, four out of the eight tested genes produced a significant and often striking improvement of stem volume, and two constructs significantly modified the proportion of root or shoot biomass. Characterization of GA concentrations in the cisgenic population that had an additional copy of a poplar GA20-oxidase gene showed elevated concentrations of 13-hydroxylated GAs compared to wild-type poplars. In the field, we observed growth improvement for three of the six tested constructs, but it was significantly greater for only one of the constructs, a pRGL:GA20-oxidase intragene. The greenhouse and field responses were highly variable, possibly to due to cross-talk among the GA pathway and other stress response pathways, or due to interactions between the cisgenes and intragenes with highly similar endogenes. Our results indicate that extensive field trials, similar to those required for conventional breeding, will be critical to evaluating the value and pleiotropic effects of GA-modifying genes.

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Tree Genetics and Genomes