Early branching development of RAV1 engineered poplars, is maintained during a field trial

An outdoor assay with genetically modified trees has shown that early branching development of RAV1 engineered poplars, is maintained during a field trial.


Lignocellulosic biomass production is met with the challenge to enhance yields and improve physical and chemical traits to become a sustainable, carbon-neutral renewable energy source. Energy produced from lignocellulosic crops will help alleviate our current high dependency on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. A further benefit is that such crops do not directly compete with food demand. This has sparked a recent interest in short-rotation coppice (SRC) cultivation of fast-growing species such as poplar for the production of lignocellulosic biomass. Growth- and development-related traits are fundamental components of productivity. In poplar, early branching or syllepsis has been positively correlated with high biomass yields in short-rotation coppice (SRC) poplar plantations, which could represent an important lignocellulosic feedstock for the production of second-generation bioenergy.

In our prior work, we generated hybrid poplars overexpressing the chestnut gene RELATED TO ABI3/VP1 1 (CsRAV1), which featured c. 80% more sylleptic branches than non-modified trees in growth chambers. Given the high plasticity of syllepsis, in this work we established a field trial to monitor the performance of these trees under outdoor conditions and a SRC management. Under our culture conditions, CsRAV1-overexpression poplars continued developing syllepsis over two cultivation cycles. Biomass production increased on completion of the first cycle for one of the overexpression events, showing unaltered structural, chemical, or combustion wood properties. During a second cultivation cycle, both field-assayed CsRAV1-overexpression events growing as multi-trunk trees showed reduced aerial growth and biomass yields compared to the control. Yet, improvements on syllepsis development were maintained in this second cultivation cycle, which represents a significant step forward in translating valuable traits from the laboratory to the field, where they must be tested. These findings support the potential application of CsRAV1-overexpression to increase syllepsis in commercial elite trees without changing wood quality.



Original Paper:

Moreno-Cortés, A; Ramos-Sánchez, JM; Hernández-Verdeja, T; González-Melendi, P; Alves, A; Simòes, R; Rodrigues, JC; Guijarro, M; Canellas, I; Sixto, H; Allona, I. 2017. "Impact of RAV1-engineering on poplar biomass production: a short-rotation coppice field trial". Biotechnology for Biofuels. DOI: 10.1186/s13068-017-0795-z".