, Volume 238, Issue 1, pp 1-22

Tracing a key player in the regulation of plant architecture: the columnar growth habit of apple trees (Malus × domestica)

Abstract

Plant architecture is regulated by a complex interplay of some key players (often transcription factors), phytohormones and other signaling molecules such as microRNAs. The columnar growth habit of apple trees is a unique form of plant architecture characterized by thick and upright stems showing a compaction of internodes and carrying short fruit spurs instead of lateral branches. The molecular basis for columnar growth is a single dominant allele of the gene Columnar, whose identity, function and gene product are unknown. As a result of marker analyses, this gene has recently been fine-mapped to chromosome 10 at 18.51–19.09 Mb [according to the annotation of the apple genome by Velasco (2010)], a region containing a cluster of quantitative trait loci associated with plant architecture, but no homologs to the well-known key regulators of plant architecture. Columnar apple trees have a higher auxin/cytokinin ratio and lower levels of gibberellins and abscisic acid than normal apple trees. Transcriptome analyses corroborate these results and additionally show differences in cell membrane and cell wall function. It can be expected that within the next year or two, an integration of these different research methodologies will reveal the identity of the Columnar gene. Besides enabling breeders to efficiently create new apple (and maybe related pear, peach, cherry, etc.) cultivars which combine desirable characteristics of commercial cultivars with the advantageous columnar growth habit using gene technology, this will also provide new insights into an elevated level of plant growth regulation.