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Genetic dissection of growth, wood basic density and gene expression in interspecific backcrosses of Eucalyptus grandis and E. urophylla

Anand Raj Kumar Kullan1, Maria M van Dyk1, Charles A Hefer13, Nicoletta Jones2, Arnulf Kanzler2 and Alexander A Myburg1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Genetics, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 0002, South Africa

2 Sappi Forests Research, Shaw Research Centre, PO Box 473, Howick, 3290, South Africa

3 Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Unit, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 0002, South Africa

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BMC Genetics 2012, 13:60  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-13-60

Published: 20 July 2012



F1 hybrid clones of Eucalyptus grandis and E. urophylla are widely grown for pulp and paper production in tropical and subtropical regions. Volume growth and wood quality are priority objectives in Eucalyptus tree improvement. The molecular basis of quantitative variation and trait expression in eucalypt hybrids, however, remains largely unknown. The recent availability of a draft genome sequence ( webcite) and genome-wide genotyping platforms, combined with high levels of genetic variation and high linkage disequilibrium in hybrid crosses, greatly facilitate the detection of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) as well as underlying candidate genes for growth and wood property traits. In this study, we used Diversity Arrays Technology markers to assess the genetic architecture of volume growth (diameter at breast height, DBH) and wood basic density in four-year-old progeny of an interspecific backcross pedigree of E. grandis and E. urophylla. In addition, we used Illumina RNA-Seq expression profiling in the E. urophylla backcross family to identify cis- and trans-acting polymorphisms (eQTLs) affecting transcript abundance of genes underlying QTLs for wood basic density.


A total of five QTLs for DBH and 12 for wood basic density were identified in the two backcross families. Individual QTLs for DBH and wood basic density explained 3.1 to 12.2% of phenotypic variation. Candidate genes underlying QTLs for wood basic density on linkage groups 8 and 9 were found to share trans-acting eQTLs located on linkage groups 4 and 10, which in turn coincided with QTLs for wood basic density suggesting that these QTLs represent segregating components of an underlying transcriptional network.


This is the first demonstration of the use of next-generation expression profiling to quantify transcript abundance in a segregating tree population and identify candidate genes potentially affecting wood property variation. The QTLs identified in this study provide a resource for identifying candidate genes and developing molecular markers for marker-assisted breeding of volume growth and wood basic density. Our results suggest that integrated analysis of transcript and trait variation in eucalypt hybrids can be used to dissect the molecular basis of quantitative variation in wood property traits.