Background: Early branching or syllepsis has been positively correlated with high biomass yields in short-rotation coppice (SRC) poplar plantations, which could represent an important lignocellulosic feedstock for the production of second-generation bioenergy. In prior work, we generated hybrid poplars overexpressing the chestnut gene RELATED TO ABI3/VP1 1 (CsRAV1), which featured c. 80% more sylleptic branches than non-modified trees in growth chambers.Given the high plasticity of syllepsis, we established a field trial to monitor the performance of these trees under outdoor conditions and a SRC management.
Results: We examined two CsRAV1-overexpression poplar events for their ability to maintain syllepsis and their potential to enhance biomass production. Two poplar events with reduced expression of the CsRAV1 homologous poplar genes PtaRAV1 and PtaRAV2 were also included in the trial. Under our culture conditions, CsRAV1-overexpression poplars continued developing syllepsis over two cultivation cycles. Biomass production increased on completion of the first cycle for one of the overexpression events, showing unaltered structural, chemical, or combustion wood properties. On completion of the second cycle, aerial growth and biomass yields of both overexpression events were reduced as compared to the control.
Conclusions: These findings support the potential application of CsRAV1-overexpression to increase syllepsis in commercial elite trees without changing their wood quality. However, the syllepsis triggered by the introduction of this genetic modification appeared not to be sufficient to sustain and enhance biomass production.