André D, Marcon A, Lee KC, Goretti D, Zhang B, Delhomme N, Schmid M, Nilsson O
Curr. Biol. 32 (13) 2988-2996.e4 [2022-07-11; online 2022-06-03]
In temperate and boreal regions, perennials adapt their annual growth cycle to the change of seasons. These adaptations ensure survival in harsh environmental conditions, allowing growth at different latitudes and altitudes, and are therefore tightly regulated. Populus tree species cease growth and form terminal buds in autumn when photoperiod falls below a certain threshold.1 This is followed by establishment of dormancy and cold hardiness over the winter. At the center of the photoperiodic pathway in Populus is the gene FLOWERING LOCUS T2 (FT2), which is expressed during summer and harbors significant SNPs in its locus associated with timing of bud set.1-4 The paralogous gene FT1, on the other hand, is hyper-induced in chilling buds during winter.3,5 Even though its function is so far unknown, it has been suggested to be involved in the regulation of flowering and the release of winter dormancy.3,5 In this study, we employ CRISPR-Cas9-mediated gene editing to individually study the function of the FT-like genes in Populus trees. We show that while FT2 is required for vegetative growth during spring and summer and regulates the entry into dormancy, expression of FT1 is absolutely required for bud flush in spring. Gene expression profiling suggests that this function of FT1 is linked to the release of winter dormancy rather than to the regulation of bud flush per se. These data show how FT duplication and sub-functionalization have allowed Populus trees to regulate two completely different and major developmental control points during the yearly growth cycle.