SEP-class genes in Populus tremuloides and their likely role in reproductive survival of poplar trees

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One of the most important processes to the survival of a species is its ability to reproduce. In plants, SEPALLATA-class MADS-box genes have been found to control the development of the inner whorls of flowers. However, while much is known about floral development in herbaceous plants, similar systems in woody trees remain poorly understood. Populus tremuloides (trembling aspen) is a widespread North American tree having important economic value, and its floral development differs from that of well-studied species in that the flowers have only two whorls and are truly unisexual. Sequence based analyses indicate that PTM3 (Populus tremuloides MADS-box 3), and a duplicate gene PTM4, are related to the SEPALLATA1-and 2-class of MADS-box genes. Another gene, PTM6, is related to SEP3, and each of these genes has a counterpart in the poplar genomic database along with additional members of the A, B, C, D, and E-classes of MADS-box genes. PTM3/4 and 6 are expressed in all stages of male and female aspen floral development. However, PTM3/4 is also expressed in the terminal buds, young leaves, and young stems. In situ RNA localization identified PTM3/4 and 6 transcripts predominantly in the inner, sexual whorl, within developing ovules of female flowers and anther primordia of male flowers. Tree researchers often use heterologous systems to help study tree floral development due to the long juvenile periods found in most trees. We found that the participation of PTM3/4 in floral development is supported by transgenic experiments in both P. tremuloides and heterologous systems such as tobacco and Arabidopsis. However, phenotypic artifacts were observed in the heterologous systems. Together the results suggest a role for poplar SEP-class genes in reproductive viability. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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