Plant cell walls: from evolutionary genomics to novel breeding tools

Project: PhD

Project Details


The exploitation of marginal lands (MALs) for biomass production is envisioned to be a reliable option to avoid competition in land allocation between food and biomass agro-systems. To profitably cultivate novel, orphan, biomass crops naturally adapted to low-input agriculture on suboptimal MALs, the EU project MAGIC aims at developing universal molecular markers for biomass quality. Such markers would enable the transfer of knowledge on the genetics of traits of interest (e.g. cell wall recalcitrance) available for well-studied species to orphan crops, without the need of de novo studying the genetic architecture of target traits in every novel crop. The development of universal markers for cell wall quality poses two main challenges. First, our current knowledge on the genomic architecture of this trait across plants is limited. In spite of the evidence for an extensive positional and functional conservation of the genetics underneath cell wall quality among plants, we do not currently know which features at the single-gene level are common across plant genomes and which are not. This aspect hampers the identification of target key genes that are positionally and functionally conserved, for which universal markers can be developed. Second, bioinformatic and statistical pipelines that enable to both mine and functionally validate universal molecular markers are also missing. This PhD project aims at addressing the two challenges above and ultimately developing universal markers for cell wall quality. Specifically, in the first part of the project we will perform genomic analyses to elucidate which “parts” of the trait cell wall quality show positional and functional conservation, while the second part will tackle the design of pipelines to find and test universal markers in the genomic neighborhoods of universal genetic elements. The methods that will be designed are envisioned to constitute a novel, generic breeding tool, potentially applicable to many complex quantitative traits beyond cell wall quality.
Effective start/end date15/10/1812/06/23


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