Molecular signatures of local adaptation to light in Norway spruce
Planta 2021, 253(2):53
Ranade SS, García-Gil MR

The study of natural variation is an efficient method to elucidate how plants adapt to local climatic conditions, a key process for the evolution of a species. Norway spruce is a shade-tolerant conifer in which the requirement of far-red light for growth increases latitudinally northwards. The objective of the study is to characterize the genetic control of local adaptation to light enriched in far-red in Norway spruce, motivated by a latitudinal gradient for the Red:Far-red (R:FR) ratio to which Norway spruce has been proven to be genetically adapted. We have established the genomic signatures of local adaptation by conducting transcriptomic (total RNA-sequencing) and genomic analyses (exome capture), for the identification of genes differentially regulated along the cline. RNA-sequencing revealed 274 differentially expressed genes in response to SHADE (low R:FR light), between the southern and northern natural populations in Sweden. Exome capture included analysis of a uniquely large data set (1654 trees) that revealed missense variations in coding regions of nine differentially expressed candidate genes, which followed a latitudinal cline in allele and genotype frequencies. These genes included five transcription factors involved in vital processes like bud-set/bud-flush, lignin pathway, and cold acclimation and other genes that take part in cell-wall remodeling, secondary cell-wall thickening, response to starvation, and immunity. Based on these results, we suggest that the northern populations might not only be able to adjust their growing season in response to low R:FR light, but they may also be better adapted towards disease resistance by up-regulation of the lignin pathway that is linked to immunity. This forms a concrete basis for local adaptation to light quality in Norway spruce, one of the most economically important conifer tree species in Sweden.

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