News Release

From genes to growth: The science behind miniature apple trees

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Nanjing Agricultural University The Academy of Science

ARF3 enhances aboveground plant growth by stimulating root elongation.


ARF3 enhances aboveground plant growth by stimulating root elongation.

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Credit: Horticulture Research

A significant study has uncovered the genetic mechanisms behind apple rootstock dwarfing, a practice pivotal for efficient and high-yield apple farming. The research delves into the role of the MdARF3 gene and its regulatory impact on plant growth, offering new insights into the genetic control of plant stature.

Apple farming heavily relies on dwarfing rootstocks like M9 for high-density planting and improved fruit quality. However, the exact mechanisms behind the dwarfing effect remain unclear. Previous studies have indicated that dwarfing traits are complex and involve multiple genetic factors. Based on these challenges, there is a need for an in-depth investigation to uncover the molecular basis of dwarfing in apple rootstocks.

The research team from China Agricultural University, led by Yi Wang and Zhenhai Han, published their findings (DOI: 10.1093/hr/uhae051) in Horticulture Research on February 23, 2024. The study focuses on the gene MdARF3, located on the Dw1 loci, and its differential expression in dwarfing versus vigorous apple rootstocks. The discovery highlights the significant role of MdARF3 in regulating root elongation and plant height, offering new insights into apple rootstock breeding.

The study identified that the expression of MdARF3 in the root system of the M9 dwarfing rootstock is lower than in vigorous rootstocks due to a deletion in the promoter region. This deletion significantly impacts the transcriptional activity of MdARF3, leading to reduced root and plant growth. Through various experiments, including transgenic tobacco and apple models, the researchers demonstrated that higher MdARF3 expression promotes longer root systems and increased plant height. Further molecular analyses revealed that the transcription factor MdWOX4-1 positively regulates MdARF3 by binding to its promoter. However, in the M9 genotype, the deletion of a WUSATAg element in the MdARF3 promoter prevents this interaction, leading to lower MdARF3 expression and subsequent dwarfing. This study provides a comprehensive understanding of the genetic and molecular interactions underlying the dwarfing trait in apple rootstocks.

Dr. Yi Wang, the lead researcher, stated, "Our findings shed light on the genetic mechanisms of apple dwarfing and open new avenues for molecular breeding. By targeting the MdARF3 pathway, we can develop improved dwarfing rootstocks that support efficient and sustainable apple production."

The discovery of the MdARF3 genetic switch offers significant implications for apple breeding programs. By manipulating the expression of MdARF3, breeders can develop new dwarfing rootstocks that combine the benefits of high-density planting, early fruit production, and superior fruit quality. This advancement not only enhances apple production efficiency but also supports the adoption of mechanized farming practices, reducing labor costs and increasing overall productivity.





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Funding information

This project was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (32172522 and 31901974), Earmarked Fund for China Agriculture Research System (CARS-27), and 2115 Talent Development Program of China Agricultural University.

About Horticulture Research

Horticulture Research is an open access journal of Nanjing Agricultural University and ranked number one in the Horticulture category of the Journal Citation Reports ™ from Clarivate, 2022. The journal is committed to publishing original research articles, reviews, perspectives, comments, correspondence articles and letters to the editor related to all major horticultural plants and disciplines, including biotechnology, breeding, cellular and molecular biology, evolution, genetics, inter-species interactions, physiology, and the origination and domestication of crops.

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