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Open Access Research article

Five QTL hotspots for yield in short rotation coppice bioenergy poplar: The Poplar Biomass Loci

Anne M Rae, Nathaniel Robert Street, Kathryn Megan Robinson, Nicole Harris and Gail Taylor*

Author Affiliations

School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton, SO16 7PX, UK

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BMC Plant Biology 2009, 9:23  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-9-23

Published: 26 February 2009

Abstract

Background

Concern over land use for non-food bioenergy crops requires breeding programmes that focus on producing biomass on the minimum amount of land that is economically-viable. To achieve this, the maximum potential yield per hectare is a key target for improvement. For long lived tree species, such as poplar, this requires an understanding of the traits that contribute to biomass production and their genetic control. An important aspect of this for long lived plants is an understanding of genetic interactions at different developmental stages, i.e. how genes or genetic regions impact on yield over time.

Results

QTL mapping identified regions of genetic control for biomass yield. We mapped consistent QTL across multiple coppice cycles and identified five robust QTL hotspots on linkage groups III, IV, X, XIV and XIX, calling these 'Poplar Biomass Loci' (PBL 1–5). In total 20% of the variation in final harvest biomass yield was explained by mapped QTL. We also investigated the genetic correlations between yield related traits to identify 'early diagnostic' indicators of yield showing that early biomass was a reasonable predictor of coppice yield and that leaf size, cell number and stem and sylleptic branch number were also valuable traits.

Conclusion

These findings provide insight into the genetic control of biomass production and correlation to 'early diagnostic' traits determining yield in poplar SRC for bioenergy. QTL hotspots serve as useful targets for directed breeding for improved biomass productivity that may also be relevant across additional poplar hybrids.