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Recent Publications

Publication: Haplotype mining panel for genetic dissection and breeding in Eucalyptus.

Candotti et al. 2023

To improve our understanding of genetic mechanisms underlying complex traits in plants, a comprehensive analysis of gene variants is required. Eucalyptus is an important forest plantation genus that is highly outbred. Trait dissection and molecular breeding in eucalypts currently relies on biallelic single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers. These markers fail to capture the large amount of haplotype diversity in these species, and thus multi-allelic markers are required. We aimed to develop a gene-based haplotype mining panel for Eucalyptus species. We generated 17 999 oligonucleotide probe sets for targeted sequencing of selected regions of 6293 genes implicated in growth and wood properties, pest and disease resistance, and abiotic stress responses. We identified and phased 195 834 SNPs using a read-based phasing approach to reveal SNP-based haplotypes. A total of 8915 target regions (at 4637 gene loci) passed tests for Mendelian inheritance. We evaluated the haplotype panel in four Eucalyptus species (E. grandis, E. urophylla, E. dunnii and E. nitens) to determine its ability to capture diversity across eucalypt species. This revealed an average of 3.13–4.52 haplotypes per target region in each species, and 33.36% of the identified haplotypes were shared by at least two species. This haplotype mining panel will enable the analysis of haplotype diversity within and between species, and provide multi-allelic markers that can be used for genome-wide association studies and gene-based breeding approaches.
Publication:  Haplogenome assembly reveals structural variation in Eucalyptus interspecific hybrids

Lotter et al. 2023
  • Background: De novo phased (haplo)genome assembly using long-read DNA sequencing data has improved the detection and characterization of structural variants (SVs) in plant and animal genomes. Able to span across haplotypes, long reads allow phased, haplogenome assembly in highly outbred organisms such as forest trees. Eucalyptus tree species and interspecific hybrids are the most widely planted hardwood trees with F1 hybrids of Eucalyptus grandis and E. urophylla forming the bulk of fast-growing pulpwood plantations in subtropical regions. The extent of structural variation and its effect on interspecific hybridization is unknown in these trees. As a first step towards elucidating the extent of structural variation between the genomes of E. grandis and E. urophylla, we sequenced and assembled the haplogenomes contained in an F1 hybrid of the two species.

  • Findings: Using Nanopore sequencing and a trio-binning approach, we assembled the separate haplogenomes (566.7 Mb and 544.5 Mb) to 98.0% BUSCO completion. High-density SNP genetic linkage maps of both parents allowed scaffolding of 88.0% of the haplogenome contigs into 11 pseudo-chromosomes (scaffold N50 of 43.8 Mb and 42.5 Mb for the E. grandis and E. urophylla haplogenomes, respectively). We identify 48,729 SVs between the two haplogenomes providing the first detailed insight into genome structural rearrangement in these species. The two haplogenomes have similar gene content, 35,572 and 33,915 functionally annotated genes, of which 34.7% are contained in genome rearrangements.

  • Conclusions: Knowledge of SV and haplotype diversity in the two species will form the basis for understanding the genetic basis of hybrid superiority in these trees.

Publication: Genomic consequences of artificial selection during early domestication of a wood fibre crop

Mostert-O.Neill et al. 2022

  • From its origins in Australia, Eucalyptus grandis has spread to every continent, except Antarctica, as a wood crop. It has been cultivated and bred for over 100 yr in places such as South Africa. Unlike most annual crops and fruit trees, domestication of E. grandis is still in its infancy, representing a unique opportunity to interrogate the genomic consequences of artificial selection early in the domestication process.

  • To determine how a century of artificial selection has changed the genome of E. grandis, we generated single nucleotide polymorphism genotypes for 1080 individuals from three advanced South African breeding programmes using the EUChip60K chip, and investigated population structure and genome-wide differentiation patterns relative to wild progenitors.

  • Breeding and wild populations appeared genetically distinct. We found genomic evidence of evolutionary processes known to have occurred in other plant domesticates, including interspecific introgression and intraspecific infusion from wild material. Furthermore, we found genomic regions with increased linkage disequilibrium and genetic differentiation, putatively representing early soft sweeps of selection.

  • This is, to our knowledge, the first study of genomic signatures of domestication in a timber species looking beyond the first few generations of cultivation. Our findings highlight the importance of intra- and interspecific hybridization during early domestication.

Publication: A genome-wide SNP genotyping resource for tropical pine tree species

Jackson, Christie et al. 2021

The lack of high-throughput, low-cost genome-wide genotyping resources has created a bottleneck in pine tree genetics research. To advance both commercial breeding programs and academic research, we have successfully designed the Pitro50K SNP array with 49,674 markers carefully selected to optimize the number of polymorphic markers within each species as well as unique markers for species and hybrid identification and ancestry reconstruction. This array provides at least 10,000 usable markers for each of the commercially grown tropical pine species in South Africa and their F1 hybrids, and large numbers of these markers should be transferable to other closely related species in the Pinus section Trifoliae, subsections Australes and Ponderosae enabling wider genetic investigations.
Publication: Genomic evidence of introgression and adaptation in a model subtropical tree species, Eucalyptus grandis

Mostert-O.Neill et al. 2020

The genetic consequences of adaptation to changing environments can be deciphered using population genomics, which may help predict species' responses to global climate change. Towards this, we used genome-wide SNP marker analysis to determine population structure and patterns of genetic differentiation in terms of neutral and adaptive genetic variation in the natural range of Eucalyptus grandis, a widely cultivated subtropical and temperate species, serving as genomic reference for the genus. We analysed introgression patterns at subchromosomal resolution using a modified ancestry mapping approach and identified provenances with extensive interspecific introgression in response to increased aridity. Furthermore, we describe potentially adaptive genetic variation as explained by environment-associated SNP markers, which also led to the discovery of what is likely a large structural variant. Finally, we show that genes linked to these markers are enriched for biotic and abiotic stress responses.
Publication: Expected benefits of genomic selection for growth and wood quality traits in Eucalyptus grandis

Mphahlele et al. 2020

Genomic selection (GS) can substantially reduce breeding cycle times in forest trees compared to traditional breeding cycles. Practical implementation of GS in tree breeding requires an assessment of significant drivers of genetic gains over time, which may differ among species and breeding objectives. We present results of a GS study of growth and wood quality traits in an operational Eucalyptus grandis breeding program in South Africa. The training population consisted of 1,575 full and half-sib individuals, genotyped with the Eucalyptus (EUChip60K) SNP chip resulting in 15,040 informative SNP markers. The accuracy of the GS models ranged from 0.47 (diameter) to 0.67 (fibre width). We compared a four-year GS breeding cycle equivalent to half of a traditional eight-year E. grandis breeding cycle and obtained GS efficiencies ranging from 1.20 (wood density) to 1.62 (fibre length). Simulated over 17 years, the ratio of the accumulated genetic gains between three GS cycles and two traditional breeding cycles ranged from 1.53 (diameter) to 3.35 (wood density). To realise these genetic gains per unit time in E. grandis breeding, we show that significant adjustments have to be made to integrate GS into operational breeding steps.
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