Natural genetic variation in Arabidopsis thaliana photosynthesis

P.J. Flood

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

Oxygenic photosynthesis is the gateway of the sun’s energy into the biosphere, it is where light becomes life. Genetic variation is the fuel of evolution, without it natural selection is powerless and adaptation impossible. In this thesis I have set out to study a relatively unexplored field which sits at the intersection of these two topics, namely natural genetic variation in plant photosynthesis. To begin I reviewed the available literature (Chapter 2), from this it became clear that the main bottleneck restricting progress was the lack of high-throughput phenotyping platforms for photosynthesis. To address this an automated high-throughput chlorophyll fluorescence phenotyping system was developed, which could measure 1440 plants in less than an hour for ΦPSII, a measure of photosynthetic efficiency (Chapter 3). Using this phenotyping platform I screened five populations of Arabidopsis thaliana. Three of these populations resulted from bi-parental crosses and segregated for only two genomes, using these I conducted family mapping (Chapter 4). The final two populations were composed of natural, field collected, accessions and were analysed using a genome wide association approach (Chapter 5). The family mapping approach had greater statistical power due to within population replication and the genome wide association approach had higher mapping resolution due to historical recombination. Both approaches were used to identify genomic regions (loci) which were responsible for some of the variation in photosynthesis observed. The number and average effect of these loci was used to infer the genetic architecture of photosynthesis as a highly complex polygenic trait for which there are many loci of very small effect. In addition to screening these large populations a smaller subset of 18 lines was assayed for natural variation in phosphorylation of photosystem II (PSII) proteins in response to changing light (Chapter 6). This exploratory study indicated that this process shows considerable variation and may be important for adaptation of the photosynthetic apparatus to photosynthetic extremes. The genetic mapping studies just described, focus exclusively on genetic variation in the nuclear genome, whilst this contains the majority of the plants genetic information there is also a store of genetic information in the chloroplast and mitochondria. These genetic repositories contain genes which are essential for photosynthesis and energy metabolism. Any variation in these genes could have a large impact on photosynthesis. To study natural variation in these genomes I developed a new population of reciprocal nuclear-organellar hybrids (cybrids) which could be used to study the effect of genetic variation in organelles whilst controlling for nuclear genetic variation (Chapter 7). Preliminary results indicate that this resource will be of great use in disentangling natural genetic variation in nucleo-organelle interactions. Finally I looked at one chloroplast encoded photosynthetic mutation in more detail (Chapter 8). This mutation had evolved in response to herbicide application and had spread along British railways. When studying this population of resistant plants I found empirical evidence for organelle mediated nuclear genetic hitchhiking. This is a previously undescribed evolutionary phenomenon and is likely to be quite common. In conclusion there is an abundance of genetic variation in photosynthesis which can be used to improve the trait for agriculture and provide insights into novel evolutionary phenomena in the field. 

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Koornneef, Maarten, Promotor
  • Aarts, Mark, Co-promotor
  • Harbinson, Jeremy, Co-promotor
Award date30 Oct 2015
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789462575004
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • arabidopsis thaliana
  • genetic variation
  • photosynthesis
  • genomes
  • chlorophyll
  • phenotypes

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