Genetic variants in microRNA biogenesis genes as novel indicators for secondary growth in Populus.
Chen Beibei, Chen Jinhui, Du Qingzhang, Zhou Daling, Wang Longxin, Xie Jianbo, Li Ying, Zhang Deqiang
The New phytologist
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) function as key regulators of complex traits, but how genetic alterations in miRNA biogenesis genes (miRBGs) affect quantitative variation has not been elucidated. We conducted transcript analyses and association genetics to investigate how miRBGs, miRNA genes (MIRNAs) and their respective targets contribute to secondary growth in a natural population of 435 Populus tomentosa individuals. This analysis identified 29 843 common single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs; frequency > 0.10) within 682 genes (80 miRBGs, 152 MIRNAs, and 457 miRNA targets). Single-SNP association analysis found SNPs in 234 candidate genes exhibited significant additive/dominant effects on phenotypes. Among these, specific candidates that associated with the same traits produced 791 miRBG-MIRNA-target combinations, suggesting possible genetic miRBG-MIRNA and MIRNA-target interactions, providing an important clue for the regulatory mechanisms of miRBGs. Multi-SNP association found 4672 epistatic pairs involving 578 genes that showed significant associations with traits and identified 106 miRBG-MIRNA-target combinations. Two multi-hierarchical networks were constructed based on correlations of miRBG-miRNA and miRNA-target expression to further probe the mechanisms of trait diversity underlying changes in miRBGs. Our study opens avenues for the investigation of miRNA function in perennial plants and underscored miRBGs as potentially modulating quantitative variation in traits.