Plant eco-devo: the potential of poplar as a model organism


  • Q. C. B. Cronk

    Corresponding author
    1. Botanical Garden and Center for Plant Research, University of British Columbia, 6804 SW Marine Drive, Vancouver BC, Canada V6T 1Z4
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Author for correspondence: Q. C. B. Cronk Tel: +1 604 827 5131 Fax: +1 604 822 2016 Email:


Ecological developmental genetics is the study of how ecologically significant traits originate in the genome and how the allelic combinations responsible are maintained in populations and species. Plant development involves a continuous feedback between growth and environment and the success of individual genotype × environment interactions determines the passage of alleles to the next generation: the adaptive recursion. Outbreeding plants contain a large amount of genetic variation, mostly in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). One of the challenges of eco-devo is to distinguish neutral SNPs from those with ecological consequences. The complete genome sequence of Populus trichocarpa Torr. & A. Gray will be a significant aid in this endeavour. Occurring from California to Alaska, this is the first ecologically ‘keystone’ species to be sequenced. It has a rich natural history and is an obligate outbreeder. The individual sequenced, Nisqually-1, appears to be heterozygous on average about every 100 bp over the c. 500 million bp of the genome. Overlaid on this within-individual variation is some ecologically based between-individual genotypic variation evident across the distribution of the species. The synthesis of information from genomics and ecology is now in prospect. This ‘ecomolecular synthesis’ is likely to provide a rich insight into the genomic basis of plant adaptation.