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This page was published on 29/01/2007
Published: 29/01/2007

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Last Update: 29-01-2007  
Related category(ies):
Agriculture & food  |  Environment  |  Pure sciences

 

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EU project identifies genetic hardiness in trees

A determining factor for the success of saplings maturing into healthy trees is their hardiness. Indeed, one of the major tasks for nursery growers consists of hardening plants, or preparing them for the harsh and often varying conditions they will face in natural environments. Hardiness, and particularly cold hardiness for European purposes, is important for forestry officials coordinating reforestation efforts across the continent. A successfully completed research project funded under FP5 attempted to identify the genetic root of tree hardiness to support reforestation rates and the vitality of economically and ecologically important forest tree species.

EU research is helping to identify trees' natural defences against the cold. © Matt+
EU research is helping to identify trees' natural defences against the cold.
© Hilkka Pellikka
The FP5 project COLDTREE investigated the molecular processes underlying winter hardiness in an effort to develop state-of-the-art tools assessing the condition of young trees. With the newly developed tools, researchers hoped to evaluate the probability of a seedling surviving winter conditions.

The project consortium used cDNA microarray technology to analyse gene expression patterns in sample trees. Experts combined gene expression technology with physiological and morphological screening for a multidisciplinary approach to the molecular events involved at the onset and release of dormancy and hardiness.

Once researchers were able to single out those genes with a strong predictive value, the genes were selected to be used in trees for nursery management and as an aid in improving forestation planning.

COLDTREE participants tested their model through two seasons using both field-grown and controlled growth pine and beech trees. They were able to produce a series of physiologically well-defined samples spanning the whole period of dormancy and cold hardiness development.

During controlled growth, tree sample groups were studied separately for decreasing temperature environments and decreasing day-length environments to allow an independent study of genes involved in these intertwined but discrete processes. Cold and warm shocks were applied, though they were shown to hardly influence tree dormancy.

Through their innovative interdisciplinary model, experts were able to determine that dormancy development in beech is more pronounced than that of pine. They compiled a cDNA library from beech buds to be used as a base for a small beech array in future studies.

The consortium also carried out work on the development of an easy-to-use diagnostic test using dehydrin genes as a model. Dehydrins code for proteins present throughout the plant kingdom allowing the test to be used beyond forestry. The proteins generated by dehydrins play important roles in dormancy and defence against dehydration and other abiotic stresses making them important subjects of study for researchers protecting plants from today's weather fluctuations.

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