Tree Physiol 33(4) , 357-64 (Apr 2013)
Ten years ago, it was announced that the Joint Genome Institute with funds provided by the Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research would sequence the black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa Torr. & Gray) genome. This landmark decision was the culmination of work by the forest science community to develop Populus as a model system. Since its public release in late 2006, the availability of the Populus genome has spawned research in plant biology, morphology, genetics and ecology. Here we address how the tree physiologist has used this resource. More specifically, we revisit our earlier contention that the rewards of sequencing the Populus genome would depend on how quickly scientists working with woody perennials could adopt molecular approaches to investigate the mechanistic underpinnings of basic physiological processes. Several examples illustrate the integration of functional and comparative genomics into the forest sciences, especially in areas that target improved understanding of the developmental differences between woody perennials and herbaceous annuals (e.g., phase transitions). Sequencing the Populus genome and the availability of genetic and genomic resources has also been instrumental in identifying candidate genes that underlie physiological and morphological traits of interest. Genome-enabled research has advanced our understanding of how phenotype and genotype are related and provided insights into the genetic mechanisms whereby woody perennials adapt to environmental stress. In the future, we anticipate that low-cost, high-throughput sequencing will continue to facilitate research in tree physiology and enhance our understanding at scales of individual organisms and populations. A challenge remains, however, as to how genomic resources, including the Populus genome, can be used to understand ecosystem function. Although examples are limited, progress in this area is encouraging and will undoubtedly improve as future research targets the many unique aspects of Populus as a keystone species in terrestrial ecosystems.