Secretariat Großhansdorf

Irene Joraszik

Sieker Landstraße 2
22927 Großhansdorf
Phone: +49 4102 696 0
Fax: +49 4102 696 200

Location manager Waldsieversdorf

  • Volker Schneck

Secretariat Waldsieversdorf

Stefanie Mordau

Eberswalder Chaussee 3a
15377 Waldsieversdorf
Phone: +49 33433 157 0
Fax: +49 33433 157 199

Poplar dioecy


 (c) Niels A. Müller

Elucidating the genetic basis and molecular mechanism of dioecy in Populus

Dioecy and the associated sex chromosomes can play a crucial role for the biology and the breeding of a species. We want to elucidate the genetic basis and the evolution of the sex chromosomes in poplar, to answer overarching questions regarding plant sexual systems.

Background and Objective

The separation of female and male flowers onto different individuals, called dioecy, has evolved independently hundreds if not thousands of times. Nevertheless, the underlying genetic basis remains mostly elusive. The principal theoretical model assumes two genetically linked mutations, one affecting male stamina, and one female carpel development (Charlesworth & Charlesworth, 1978). An intriguing alternative is a switch-like single-gene-based mechanism (Renner, 2016). However, such a single-gene-based mechanism has been difficult to unambiguously test.

In this project, we want to employ poplar natural variation, to resolve the genetic basis and the evolution of an ancient but genetically highly variable system of sex determination. We want to understand the impact of sex chromosomes on recombination (crossing over), determine the genes and gene variants ‚trapped‘ on the sex chromosomes, and identify possible secondary effects of dioecy. Finally, we want to experimentally test whether sex is determined by a single gene in poplars. The results are of fundamental scientific interest but also of great practical relevance.


In this project, we will combine genetic, genomic and biotechnological methods. Using classical experimental populations we want to precisely localize the sex-determining regions of aspen and white poplar. We further want to assess recombination frequencies along these regions. Genome sequences of various poplar individuals will allow us to have a detailed look into the genes and sequence motifs on the sex chromosomes. We will use publically available genomes but also generate new data, including third generation long read sequences using a MinION device. Finally, we will employ biotechnological methods, including CRISPR/Cas9, to experimentally test our hypotheses. The collective genetic, genomic and biotechnological amenability of poplar is absolutely unique among dioecious plant species and therefore offers truly exceptional possibilities for studying the genetics of dioecy.


Involved Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
    (national, öffentlich)


10.2018 - 9.2021

More Information

Projekt type:
Project status: ongoing

Publikationen zum Projekt

hits: 5

  1. Renner SS, Müller NA (2021) Plant sex chromosomes defy evolutionary models of expanding recombination suppression and genetic degeneration. Nat Plants 7:392-402, DOI:10.1038/s41477-021-00884-3
  2. Leite Montalvao AP, Kersten B, Fladung M, Müller NA (2021) The diversity and dynamics of sex determination in dioecious plants. Front Plant Sci 11:580488, DOI:10.3389/fpls.2020.580488
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 2790 kb
  3. Kim G, Leite Montalvao AP, Kersten B, Fladung M, Müller NA (2021) The genetic basis of sex determination in Populus provides molecular markers across the genus and indicates convergent evolution. Silvae Genetica 70(1):145-155, DOI:10.2478/sg-2021-0012
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 1941 kb
  4. Müller NA, Kersten B, Leite Montalvao AP, Mähler N, Bernhardsson C, Bräutigam K, Carracedo Lorenzo Z, Hönicka H, Kumar V, Mader M, Pakull B, Robinson KM, Sabatti M, Vettori C, Ingvarsson PK, Cronk Q, Street NR, Fladung M (2020) A single gene underlies the dynamic evolution of poplar sex determination. Nat Plants 6:630-637, DOI:10.1038/s41477-020-0672-9
  5. Cronk Q, Müller NA (2020) Default sex and single gene sex determination in dioecious plants. Front Plant Sci 11:1162, DOI:10.3389/fpls.2020.01162
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 506 kb