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Can we identify the origin of a tree from its metabolites, or define the adaptability of a forest species to environmental variations caused by climate change? Researchers from the University of Oviedo and Serida believe that it is. A joint work carried out between both institutions has identified new biomarkers that can be used in forest management and improvement programs to achieve the sustainability of forests in the current context of global warming.
The key piece of this research is in the metabolites, the set of molecules that make up the metabolism of a living being. The scientists took the clonal collection of Pinus pinaster from the Serida forestry program as a basis for their study, made up of pines from different parts of the world such as France, Spain and Morocco. The study of the metabolites that were extracted from the specimens grown in Asturias yielded surprises.
Luis Valledor, a researcher at the Department of Biology of Organisms and Systems of the University, reveals that they expected to find the same metabolites regardless of the origin of the trees because these molecules are very sensitive to environmental changes.
"We waited five years to erase his memory of origin," he says. Growing up in the same location, we believed that we were going to find the same metabolites in all of them ”, he explains. However, they discovered that the different specimens kept intact part of the genetic capacity of origin in relation to the production of metabolites, a kind of 'genetic fingerprint'.
The research, published in the journal Molecular Ecology, has practical consequences. Luis Valledor highlights that, thanks to the study of this set of molecules, the greater or lesser tolerance of the different specimens can now be explained in the face of stress situations such as temperature, ultraviolet radiation or the scarcity of light. In this way, after identifying the metabolites, forests could be generated on demand, selecting trees with the capacity to adapt to different geoclimatic conditions.
Scientists chose Pinus pinaster for its importance in both the pulp and wood industries and reforestation policies. It is an autochthonous species with a notable presence in Asturias and Spain. Luis Valledor, specialist in Plant Physiology, provides some figures.
The Pinus pinaster occupies approximately 1.8 million hectares in our country. After eucalyptus, it is the species most used by loggers, since it accounts for practically 26% of all the wood produced in Spain. The study authors consider that the results obtained with this species are transferable to other pine trees such as Pinus sylvestris or P. radiata, although the methodology developed could be applied to any plant species.
The work now published has been possible thanks to the collaboration of different teams from the University of Oviedo, the Regional Service for Agrifood Research and Development (Serida), the University of Vienna and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.
Bibliographic reference: Meijón M, Feito I, Oravec M, De la Torre C, Weckwerth W, Majada J, Valledor L. 2016. Exploring natural variation of Pinus pinaster Aiton using metabolomics: Is it possible to identify the region of origin of a pine from its metabolites? Molecular Ecology, e-print ahead of publication. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mec.13525/epdf