Portrait photo of Catherine Bellini standing in front of snow covered needle trees. She has short dark hair and is wearing a white winterjacket with brown collar and a red scarf. Catherine Bellini received a project grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation to investigate adeventitious root formation in aspen trees (photo: Anne Honsel).

Why do stem cuttings of aspen trees have problems forming adventitious roots? Catherine Bellini, professor at Umeå University and group leader at UPSC, will investigate the molecular mechanisms that control the formation of such roots. She recently received a project grant from the Danish Novo Nordisk Foundation, and in the frame of her project, she aims to optimize the vegetative propagation of trees by improving their rooting ability.

- Congratulations on your project grant! Is it the first time you have received funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation?

Catherine Bellini: Yes, this is the first time. The Danish Novo Nordisk Foundation extended its calls for research projects to Nordic countries only three years ago. This is a great new opportunity for us.

- According to your project title, you will study adventitious root development in trees, focusing on aspen. What are adventitious roots, and why are they interesting?

Catherine Bellini: Plants have the fascinating property of propagating vegetatively, which means that they can reproduce without producing seeds. This method is crucial for many plant species, ensuring genetic continuity and survival in challenging environments. Vegetative propagation is widely exploited in horticulture and forestry for cloning plants with desirable traits, and its success depends on the development of adventitious roots that arise from non-root plant parts, such as stems, leaves, or even old woody tissues.

- Why did you choose to focus on Aspen in your project?

Catherine Bellini: Some genotypes possess inherent traits that promote the initiation and growth of adventitious roots, making them more amenable to propagation through methods such as cutting or layering. In contrast, aspen trees have genetic constraints that limit their ability to root effectively. Juvenile aspen trees can be easily vegetatively propagated, but stem cuttings of older aspen trees are unable to regenerate adventitious roots, which significantly limits the use of vegetative propagation techniques. We want to understand what mechanisms repress adventitious root development in woody stem cuttings of aspen.

- What is the Swedish Aspen collection and how can it help you to find a solution to the rooting problem?

Catherine Bellini: The Swedish Aspen collection comprises 116 aspen individuals collected from twelve sites all over Sweden. These clones were shown to contain high levels of genetic variation with a low degree of relationship and inbreeding that allows us to identify marker genes controlling certain plant features like the ability to form adventitious roots. We plan to characterize the rooting performance of these clones at the phenotypic, molecular and physiologic levels to improve our understanding of adventitious root development and identify additional regulatory elements.

- How does this project connect to your previous research?

Catherine Bellini: For twenty years, we have used the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to dissect the molecular networks controlling adventitious root initiation and identified several regulatory modules connecting different signalling pathways. It was about time to translate this research to other species for which vegetative propagation through cuttings is problematic. The existence of the Swedish Aspen collection, established by colleagues at UPSC offered an excellent opportunity to do so.

- What will be the possible benefit of your project?

Catherine Bellini: We hope to identify the genes that control rooting and to understand better how they work. This may provide new means to improve propagation of recalcitrant genotypes and species, advance the regeneration of genetically engineered plants.

The project

The project “Adventitious root development in trees: exploring the genetic variation in the Swedish Aspen collection” was funded within the call for Project Grants for research within Plant Science, Agriculture and Food Biotechnology 2023 from Novo Nordisk Foundation.

More information about the call on the Novo Nordisk Foundation homepage

For questions, please contact:

Catherine Bellini
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
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