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X-ray computed tomography to decipher the genetic architecture of tree branching traits: oak as a case study


A new method for obtaining internal views of tree trunks was recently developed using X-ray computed tomography (CT). This technology makes it possible to observe and measure rameal traces that are left by latent buds, sequential branches, and epicormic branches in the wood. Epicormic branches are undesirable for producing high-value solid wood, especially in Quercus robur, an important hardwood forest tree species in Europe, which is prone to epicormic branches that develop from abundant latent buds. For the very first time, branching-related traits deduced from X-ray CT observation make it possible to analyze the genetic architecture of oak branching through a quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis. Highly significant QTLs were detected for traits related to latent buds and epicormic branches. The number and effect of these QTLs suggest a moderate genetic determinism for the formation of latent buds and the development of epicormic branches. Three hotspots were found, grouping QTLs for different branching traits. An analysis of the common physiological denominators of these coincident traits suggests that their genetic controls are related to either the regulation of the axillary meristem initiation or to bud dormancy. Conversely, the position of only the separate QTL related to the number of sequential branches suggests an independent genetic control.

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J. Song received a PhD fellowship from the Jinan Bayle Wine Import Co. The experimental site was provided by UMR 1202 Biogeco (INRA-Univ. Bordeaux). The medical CT scanner was provided by UMR 1092 LERFoB (INRA-AgroParisTech). LERFoB is supported by a grant overseen by the French National Research Agency (ANR) as part of the “Investissements d’Avenir” program (ANR-11-LABX-0002-01, Lab of Excellence ARBRE). We warmly thank B. Garnier and C. Freyburger for the preparation of the CT scanning, JB. Morisset and P-A. Dherouville for their help with the interpretation of the scanned images, B. Dencausse, D. Rittié, and G. Maréchal for wood preparation, and F. Ehrenmann for data submission. We also thank P. Duba for an initial English revision.

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Correspondence to Francis Colin.

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Data archiving statement

The genetic maps are available in Quercus Portal:

CMap Comparative Map Viewer for female parental LGs:

CMap Comparative Map Viewer for male parental LGs:

The phenotypic measurements were submitted in QuercusMap:

Communicated by D. Grattapaglia

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Song, J., Brendel, O., Bodénès, C. et al. X-ray computed tomography to decipher the genetic architecture of tree branching traits: oak as a case study. Tree Genetics & Genomes 13, 5 (2017).

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  • Pedunculate oak
  • Computed tomography
  • Epicormic
  • Latent bud
  • QTL