The ability to engineer genomes or selectively breed for traits desirable for bioenergy crops is a costly and time-intensive process. Innovative methods that enable rapid reprogramming of stable gene expression patterns is desired. To this end, for this project, researchers plan to combine common practices for Populus plant regeneration from tissue culture or stem cuttings with exposure to abiotic stresses such as heat and drought with the goal of rapidly increasing stable, gene expression diversity by specifically affecting the DNA methylation landscape. This study will reveal the role of epigenomic reprogramming that occurs as plant cells undergo cuttings and potentially uncover ‘hidden’ variants associated with vegetative propagation and transformation processes that are widely used in many energy crop species. Although this study specifically focuses on poplar, the relevant methods for vegetative propagation are similarly used in other plant species, making the conclusions of this proposed research likely transferable to additional DOE Flagship plant species. Additionally, the work done here could result in a rapid increase in the phenotypic variation of plants created from vegetative propagation techniques, which would be a great boon for breeders of many plant species that rely on these methods.
Proposer’s Name: Robert Schmidt