Network-Based Integration of Systems Genetics Data Reveals Pathways Associated with Lignocellulosic Biomass Accumulation and Processing

Mark Davis, Eshchar Mizrachi, Lieven Verbeke, Nanette Christie, Ana Fierro, Shawn Mansfield, Gerald Tuskan, Marc Montagu, Yves Van de Peer, Kathleen Marchal, Alexander Myburg, Erica Gjersing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus Citations


As a consequence of their remarkable adaptability, fast growth, and superior wood properties, eucalypt tree plantations have emerged as key renewable feedstocks (over 20 million ha globally) for the production of pulp, paper, bioenergy, and other lignocellulosic products. However, most biomass properties such as growth, wood density, and wood chemistry are complex traits that are hard to improve in long-lived perennials. Systems genetics, a process of harnessing multiple levels of component trait information (e.g., transcript, protein, and metabolite variation) in populations that vary in complex traits, has proven effective for dissecting the genetics and biology of such traits. We have applied a network-based data integration (NBDI) method for a systems-level analysis of genes, processes and pathways underlying biomass and bioenergy-related traits using a segregating Eucalyptus hybrid population. We show that the integrative approach can link biologically meaningful sets of genes to complex traits and at the same time reveal the molecular basis of trait variation. Gene sets identified for related woody biomass traits were found to share regulatory loci, cluster in network neighborhoods, and exhibit enrichment for molecular functions such as xylan metabolism and cell wall development. These findings offer a framework for identifying the molecular underpinn ings of complex biomass and bioprocessing-related traits. A more thorough understanding of the molecular basis of plant biomass traits should provide additional opportunities for the establishment of a sustainable bio-based economy.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1195-1200
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - 31 Jan 2017

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-67898


  • Bioenergy
  • Cell wall
  • Lignocellulosic biomass
  • Network-based data integration
  • Systems genetics


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