How Apples Adapt to Northern Climates Through Genetic Changes

Jim Crocker
5th June, 2024

How Apples Adapt to Northern Climates Through Genetic Changes

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study focused on apple cultivars in northern Sweden to understand how they adapt to boreal climates
  • Researchers identified two distinct ancestral groups of apple cultivars: 'hardy' and 'not hardy'
  • A significant genomic region on chromosome 1, near the gene HFTH1, was found to be crucial for cold climate adaptation in 'hardy' apple cultivars
Understanding how apple trees adapt to different climates is crucial for breeding varieties that can thrive in specific regions. This is particularly important for boreal climates, such as those in northern Sweden, where the infrastructure for studying these adaptations is lacking. A recent study by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences[1] has leveraged historical data and modern genomic techniques to uncover the genetic basis of climate adaptation in apple cultivars suited for northern Sweden. The study used historical pomological data, which are records of fruit characteristics and cultivation practices, to identify traits linked to climate adaptation. Researchers focused on 59 apple cultivars, categorizing them into 'hardy' and 'not hardy' groups based on their ability to withstand the harsh boreal climate. They then performed whole genome sequencing to pinpoint genomic regions that have undergone selection in these cultivars. The findings revealed two distinct ancestral groups that align closely with the 'hardy' and 'not hardy' classifications. By conducting genome-wide scans for selection signals, the researchers identified a significant region on chromosome 1, near the gene HFTH1, that showed strong evidence of positive selection in the 'hardy' cultivars. This suggests that this genomic region plays a crucial role in the ability of apple trees to survive and thrive in colder climates. To further validate their findings, the researchers used phased genotypic data from the 20K apple Infinium® SNP array. This array is a high-density tool for assessing genetic variation across the apple genome, developed to provide detailed insights into apple genetics[2]. By analyzing haplotypes—combinations of alleles at adjacent locations on the chromosome—they were able to trace the transmission of these genetic markers through the pedigrees of various apple cultivars. This approach allowed them to confirm that the identified haplotypes were indeed associated with the 'hardy' group. The study's use of historical data in conjunction with modern genomic techniques exemplifies how traditional knowledge can be integrated with cutting-edge science to address contemporary challenges. The identification of key genomic regions responsible for climate adaptation provides a valuable resource for breeding programs. By selecting for these genetic markers, breeders can develop new apple varieties that are better suited to specific climatic conditions, thereby ensuring the sustainability and productivity of apple orchards in the face of climate change. This research builds on previous studies that have explored the genetic basis of important traits in apples. For instance, earlier work has identified quantitative trait loci (QTLs) associated with budbreak and flowering time, which are critical for apple adaptation to temperature changes[3]. The identification of these QTLs, along with the development of high-density SNP arrays, has laid the groundwork for more precise genetic mapping and selection in apple breeding[2][4]. The current study extends this knowledge by focusing specifically on adaptation to boreal climates, highlighting the importance of genetic research in addressing the challenges posed by climate change. In conclusion, the study by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences demonstrates the power of combining historical data with modern genomic tools to uncover the genetic basis of climate adaptation in apples. By identifying key genomic regions and haplotypes associated with hardiness, this research provides valuable insights that can inform breeding strategies for developing new apple cultivars adapted to boreal climates. This work underscores the importance of genetic research in horticulture and its potential to enhance the resilience of crops in a changing climate.

AgricultureGeneticsPlant Science


Main Study

1) Why we thrive beneath a northern sky - genomic signals of selection in apple for adaptation to northern Sweden.

Published 4th June, 2024

Related Studies

2) Development and validation of a 20K single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) whole genome genotyping array for apple (Malus × domestica Borkh).

3) Detecting QTLs and putative candidate genes involved in budbreak and flowering time in an apple multiparental population.

4) Genome-wide SNP detection, validation, and development of an 8K SNP array for apple.

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