- Research article
- Open Access
Comparative SNP diversity among four Eucalyptus species for genes from secondary metabolite biosynthetic pathways
© Külheim et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2009
- Received: 20 May 2009
- Accepted: 24 September 2009
- Published: 24 September 2009
There is little information about the DNA sequence variation within and between closely related plant species. The combination of re-sequencing technologies, large-scale DNA pools and availability of reference gene sequences allowed the extensive characterisation of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in genes of four biosynthetic pathways leading to the formation of ecologically relevant secondary metabolites in Eucalyptus. With this approach the occurrence and patterns of SNP variation for a set of genes can be compared across different species from the same genus.
In a single GS-FLX run, we sequenced over 103 Mbp and assembled them to approximately 50 kbp of reference sequences. An average sequencing depth of 315 reads per nucleotide site was achieved for all four eucalypt species, Eucalyptus globulus, E. nitens, E. camaldulensis and E. loxophleba. We sequenced 23 genes from 1,764 individuals and discovered 8,631 SNPs across the species, with about 1.5 times as many SNPs per kbp in the introns compared to exons. The exons of the two closely related species (E. globulus and E. nitens) had similar numbers of SNPs at synonymous and non-synonymous sites. These species also had similar levels of SNP diversity, whereas E. camaldulensis and E. loxophleba had much higher SNP diversity. Neither the pathway nor the position in the pathway influenced gene diversity. The four species share between 20 and 43% of the SNPs in these genes.
By using conservative statistical detection methods, we were confident about the validity of each SNP. With numerous individuals sampled over the geographical range of each species, we discovered one SNP in every 33 bp for E. nitens and one in every 31 bp in E. globulus. In contrast, the more distantly related species contained more SNPs: one in every 16 bp for E. camaldulensis and one in 17 bp for E. loxophleba, which is, to the best of our knowledge, the highest frequency of SNPs described in woody plant species.
- Eucalyptus Species
- Common SNPs
- Flavonoid Pathway
- Rare SNPs
- Flavonoid Biosynthesis Pathway
The genome sequence is known for a limited number of plant species including Arabidopsis thaliana, Oryza sativa, Vitis vinifera and Populus trichocarpa [1–5]. In a few plant species, levels of polymorphism in DNA sequences have been estimated using large genome data sets [6–8]. Further, in a study of A. thaliana, 20 accession lines were studied to determine SNP variation at genome-wide level . There are two limitations to estimating complete DNA sequence variation in a species. First, it requires comprehensive sampling of individuals, which is costly and time consuming. Second, it demands the most modern technology. Next generation sequencing (NGS) provides opportunities for cost-effective sequencing of massive amounts of DNA. The relatively new method of parallel pyrosequencing developed by 454 Life Sciences has quickly improved in the number of reads and read length. Two studies recently used these technologies to test fidelity of sequence variants from pooled DNA comprising DNA from several individuals [10, 11]. Both studies proved that with adequate depth of sequence coverage it was possible to detect and estimate the frequencies of SNPs. Such an approach has been used to identify many SNPs in domestic pigs (Sus domestica Linn.) , rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta, Zimmermann) , whole genome comparisons of bacteria (Salmonella (Salmonella spp.) , and from seven families of Eucalyptus grandis, Hill .
Missing from plant biology are large comparative studies of genomes from closely related plant species . Soon it will be easy to sequence and thus compare closely related genomes, for example from relatives of Arabidopsis or rice. In other sets of closely related species, for which there is no genome sequence, total sequence diversity at a set of orthologous genes can be compared. Simultaneously, with the use of genes in defined biosynthetic pathways, associations between levels of SNP variation and the position of the genes in the pathway can be examined and also comparisons made of the levels of gene diversity between pathways. For instance, in A. thaliana there was no association between variation and position in the pathway for a set of genes from the phenylpropanoid pathway . In eucalypts, we are interested in the terpenoid and flavonoid pathways, because they produce compounds that are important in the plants' response to stress and herbivory. Furthermore, these pathways are well defined in several plant species [17–21], but there have been no genetic studies of the genes in these pathways in eucalypts.
The four Eucalyptus species used in this study all belong to the subgenus Symphyomyrtus. The two major commercial species, E. globulus and E. nitens, are closely related and belong to the same series (Globulares) and section (Maidenaria). The other two, E. camaldulensis and E. loxophleba, are in different sections, Exsertaria and Bisectae, respectively . There is uncertainty about the dates of divergence of lineages within the subgenus Symphyomyrtus but E. globulus and E. nitens probably diverged 5 - 10 million years ago, while the more distantly related E. loxophleba might have diverged between 20 - 40 million years ago [23, 24]. All are important species for wood and pulp production or are planted widely to ameliorate salinity.
We sequenced 23 genes from the gDNA of 1,764 individuals of four different Eucalyptus species allowing us to characterise the SNPs in these genes and to compare their patterns of occurrence among species.
Pooled samples from individuals collected across the geographic range of four Eucalyptus species
Eucalyptus species included in this study with number of populations and number of individuals sampled for each species.
WA, NT, QLD, SA, NSW, VIC
Genes of the terpenoid and flavonoid pathway
Details of 23 genes of secondary metabolisms in Eucalyptus sequenced for SNP detection
aa identity (%)b
Pyrosequencing and reference assembly
Summary statistics of the re-sequencing experiment of four species of Eucalyptus.
Total No. reads
Matched to reference
Average read length (bp)
Total sequenced (bp)
The absolute number of SNPs in the exons and introns of four species of Eucalyptus.
Exons + Introns
SNP detection and analysis
The normalized number of SNPs in the exons and introns of four species of Eucalyptus.
The frequency of SNPs per 1,000 bp for 23 genes of four biosynthetic pathways in each of four Eucalyptus species.
SNP frequencies across the different pathways
We hypothesized that genes that occur only once within the genome (single genes) are under higher selective pressure and therefore we expected to observe less SNPs in those genes than genes that occur in multi-gene families. Additional file 1 shows how many members there are in each gene family from some species with known genome sequences (Arabidopsis thaliana, Oryza sativa, Populus trichocarpa and Vitis vinifera). BLAST searches within the genome web pages (A. thaliana (TAIR v. 7.0), O. sativa (TIGR v. 5.0) and P. trichocarpa (JGI v. 1.1)) and searches for the gene name in well-annotated genome web pages (A. thaliana and O. sativa) generated most of the data, while the numbers for V. vinifera came from Velasco and co-workers . A comparison of our results to those of Tsai and co-workers , who used similar methods to estimate the gene numbers for flavonoid biosynthesis pathway genes from A. thaliana and P. trichocarpa, indicated few differences, which were of little consequence in placing the genes into two categories: single or low copy and high copy number genes (see Additional file 1). The occurrence of pseudogenes make it difficult to verify the exact copy number of a gene and, in the case of Eucalyptus, the imminent release of the genome sequence will make accurate measures easier. A comparison of SNP frequencies between single or low copy genes and genes from large families showed no significant differences. There appears to be a tendency towards higher SNP frequencies for genes in the MVA pathway than for genes in other pathways (Table 6), but definite conclusions require data on the hmgr and pmk genes
Comparing SNPs among Eucalyptus species
The number and percentage of SNPs in either the exons or introns shared by more than one species of Eucalyptus.
Analysis of synonymous and non-synonymous sites across Eucalyptus
Genes can be under positive or negative selection. Insight into the type of selection can be obtained from the ratio of non-synonymous mutations per non-synonymous site to synonymous SNPs per synonymous site in the exons of a gene (pN/pS). Ratios for genes that had less than ten variants were excluded, for example E. globulus lar and anr with four and nine variations, respectively. We could not determine a value for E. globulus chalcone isomerase (chi), because it lacked a synonymous mutation. The values of pN/pS ranged from 0.04 to 0.95, averaging 0.3. The average ratios for the four species were between 0.08 and 0.69 indicating purifying selection in the pathways studied (see additional file 2). Interestingly, the two genes with the lowest pN/pS ratio were 1-deoxyxylulose-5-phosphate synthase 1 (dxs1) and 1-deoxyxylulose-5-phosphate synthase 2 (dxs2).
For the 23 genes 8,631 high confidence SNPs across the four species were identified from 1,764 individuals that represented the full geographic range of each species. Our strict criteria undoubtedly led to the exclusion of many 'real' SNPs, but ensured that there were no false-positives in our SNP identification. There should be no ascertainment bias due to our sampling approach, however, a major potential bias has been raised with re-sequencing methods, namely PCR amplification from pooled samples [11, 28]. Pools of DNA from four species were used in this SNP discovery project and the primers were designed inside the exons to enhance our chance of even and equal amplification within and across all pools. Our success rate for using primers across all species was 100%. Nevertheless, this came at a cost, since we had to exclude data from genes where the primers clearly amplified more than one locus, namely the large gene families of terpene-, squalene- and chalcone- synthases. The study was successful because the reference or consensus sequences in the four species showed high identity. It is unclear whether exclusion of gene families led to bias in estimation of overall levels of SNP diversity.
A general conclusion that can be drawn for the four species is that within all genes there is more SNP variability in introns than in the exons. In only three of the 92 comparisons (hmgs and anr in E. nitens and smo in E. loxophleba) do more SNPs occur in exons than introns. The lowest SNP density in the exons was found in E. nitens with one SNP in every 39 bp, and the highest in E. camaldulensis with one SNP in every 21 bp, which is similar to estimates of one in 43 bp and one in 50 for ESTs from maize [29, 30]. For angiosperm trees comparable estimates are one in 25 bp for Quercus crispula  and one every 60 bp in Populus tremula . In all these studies a limited number of individuals were sampled. Our estimates are much higher than comparable SNP frequencies previously reported in Eucalyptus of one SNP in every 192 bp . This could be explained by our experimental design, which examined a comprehensive set of populations over the geographical range of each species, in contrast to E. grandis where only three individuals from each of seven families were examined .
There are different levels of SNPs between genes within species. Eucalyptus camaldulensis and E. loxophleba have higher levels of polymorphism for individual genes than E. globulus and E. nitens, but there is a smaller range in SNP polymorphisms between genes. A high proportion of the discovered SNPs are shared between several species. While some of these may have occurred independently after species separation, many would have been present before the speciation events. If evolutionary time from speciation is the dominant factor then one would expect that genes from other biosynthetic pathways in the same eucalypt species will show similar patterns. There is much uncertainty as to how long ago the species separated. The proposed separation age ranges from 5 - 10 mya for E. globulus and E. nitens to 20 - 42 mya for E. loxophleba from the other three species [23, 24]. That so many SNPs are in common between species suggest selective forces have maintained many of them over this period. Similarly, the unusually large proportion of non-synonymous SNP sites, especially of common SNPs, along with the high similarity of proportions of synonymous versus non-synonymous SNPs across species suggests maintenance of these SNPs through selection.
It is noticeable that the two sister species E. globulus and E. nitens have very similar levels of SNP diversity overall and at the intron and exon level. The similar proportions of common SNPs in introns for E. globulus and E. nitens could result from evolutionary lineages of comparable age. In fact, they share about 28% of their SNPs, even though they have been separated for several million years. Morphologically they are quite distinct species. For the ten other species in the small taxonomic group Globulares to which these two species belong , we hypothesise that similar patterns of polymorphism will be found for the same functional set of genes. Will other eucalypt species pairs show similar patterns and what does it infer about evolutionary relationships within and between groups of species?
Eucalyptus camaldulensis has the highest numbers of SNPs, especially of rare alleles both in the exons and introns. This species has the largest geographic range of any eucalypt species and the most number of natural populations of the four species that were sampled. Perhaps the species with the greater number of separate evolving populations will have a greater array of rare SNPs. A SNP data set from individuals rather than pooled bulks of DNA would allow examination of this hypothesis. The several subspecies within both E. loxophleba and E. camaldulensis suggest greater evolutionary divergence within these species and this seems to be reflected in the higher SNP diversity in the two species. The higher intron/exon ratios of SNPs in these two species could reflect that they represent older evolutionary lineages which have enabled greater accumulation of SNP alleles over time, especially in introns, where selective forces could be weaker. Similar differences in intron/exon SNP ratios may occur in other eucalypts and plant groups as a result of differences in length of evolutionary lineages.
In a study of nine genes of the phenylpropanoid pathway in A. thaliana no association was detected between sequence diversity and position in the pathway . In our study structural genes of the terpenoid and flavonoid biosynthesis pathways, which are important in plant-herbivore interactions [33–35], were used. Essentially, no relationship was found between the levels of SNP diversity in genes and their position in the pathways or between pathways. Even without some gene sequences the coverage of the pathways was sufficient to make these conclusions. Most of the genes studied appear to be under purifying selection. Similar results have been reported in other plants [15, 36]. In forest trees current data suggest 15-20% of genes are under some form of selection [37, 38]. It is possible that the assumption for a genome-wide neutral model does not apply for the eucalypt species. Whether many of the observed patterns are due to common demographic factors rather than selection may be resolved when nucleotide diversity estimates are available at the population level.
The hypothesis that entry point enzymes such as dxs control the downstream production of terpenoids  is not reflected in lower levels of SNP diversity in the corresponding genes, but may be reflected by the low ratios of pN/pS. Nevertheless there could be significant associations between SNP polymorphisms and concentrations of final products in these genes. Furthermore, we only examined structural genes here and there could be strong selection on the unknown regulatory elements involved in the pathway. Recent studies have found evidence of different patterns of polymorphism between different functional gene classes with genes interacting with the environment having high levels of SNP diversity . Examination of the data set in this study with genes in pathways responsible for other phenotypic traits for the same eucalypt species and individuals will enable similar comparison
Our study shows that it is possible to discover most common SNPs and a large proportion of rare sequence variants by 454 pyrosequencing for fragments amplified from species-wide pooled DNA in a set of targeted genes. We emphasize that a comprehensive sample collection is the key for comprehensive SNP discovery. With one SNP in every 16 bp E. camaldulensis has the highest SNP frequency of any woody plant species studied so far. The high number of shared SNPs between E. globulus and E. nitens, as well as the similar patterns of SNPs in all studied genes is a reflection of their close phylogenetic relationship. The study successfully characterised a large number of common SNPs that can be used in association studies in eucalypts.
We collected Eucalyptus globulus (Labill.) at a field trial in Northern Tasmania (Latrobe site). This trial was planted in 1989 from open pollinated seeds collected from 46 locations throughout the geographic range of the species [40–42]. Leaves from 511 individual trees collected in September 2006, were frozen immediately and kept at -80°C until further use. Leaves and DNA from 381 Eucalyptus nitens (Maiden) trees were previously obtained as part of association genetic studies of the central highlands regions of Victoria  and also from a population genetics study of E. nitens . The four NSW populations (83 trees) from the Byrne study  along with 24 central Victorian populations completed the geographic coverage for E. nitens (Table 1). Butcher had previously collected leaf samples and extracted DNA from populations of E. camaldulensis (Dehnh.) covering the geographic range [26, 45]. We used DNA samples from 456 of these sample trees representing 93 populations. Finally we collected leaves from 416 E. loxophleba (Benth.) from 29 populations in 2007/2008 covering the range of the species, including the four subspecies .
Genomic DNA (gDNA) was isolated from E. globulus, E. nitens and E. camaldulensis with a modified CTAB method . and from E. loxophleba with a Qiagen DNeasy 96 Plant kit (Qiagen Australia, Doncaster, Vic, Australia). We measured the gDNA concentration of each individual sample with a NanoDrop ND-1000 spectrophotometer (Thermo Scientific, Wilmington, DE, USA) and adjusted the concentration to 50 ng/μl for E. globulus, E. nitens and E. camaldulensis and to 25 ng/μl for E. loxophleba. Finally, we pooled DNA samples from each species and checked the resulting pool for quality and quantity on a ND-1000 (Thermo Scientific, USA).
Gene discovery and primer design
Amino acid sequences from genes of the terpenoid and flavonoid biosynthetic pathways were obtained from Arabidopsis thaliana and in some cases Populus trichocarpa. They were then used to search for eucalypt sequences with a BLAST search against the Genebank http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ EST data base (tblastn against Myrtaceae). Eucalyptus hits were then aligned for each gene, translated into protein and reverse BLAST was used against Genebank to confirm the gene identity. Primers were designed (see Additional file 3) to amplify each gene from gDNA to gain intron sequences as well as confirming the exon sequences. Some sequences (chs and tps) came from degenerate primers, cloning, and sequencing in our laboratory.
Many of the ESTs did not cover the complete open reading frame of its gene so to close gaps on the 5' end of these genes we used the GenomeWalker Universal Kit (Clontech Laboratories, Mountain View, CA, USA). From the combined sequence information we made a consensus sequences for each gene, which later served as our reference sequence for the 454 pyrosequencing assembly. We designed primers for 37 genes starting within the first available exon and ending inside an exon, to produce a fragment of maximum 2,100 bp. If required, multiple primer pairs were designed to fully cover a gene (see additional file 3), giving us 57 amplicons. The combined length of all amplicons was approximately 89 kbp.
Verification of primers and fragment amplification
We verified that all primers worked within a species using firstly 12 individuals from each species which were selected to cover their geographic ranges, and secondly for 96 individuals from E. globulus but for a subset of 17 amplicons. Fragments were amplified by PCR with TAQ-Ti (Fisher-Biotech, West Perth, Australia) using standard PCR conditions, separated on 1.2% Agarose gels containing ethidium bromide with images captured on a Molecular Imager Gel Doc XR System (Bio-Rad Laboratories, Hercules, CA, USA). For re-sequencing, we amplified fragments from each of the four pools of gDNA by PCR under the conditions described previously and then ran a fraction of the PCR product on an agarose gel to check its quality. We cleaned single fragments of the expected size with a QIAquick PCR purification kit (Qiagen, Doncaster, Vic, Australia). When there were several fragments, we separated the PCR products on a 1.2% Agarose gel and extracted them from gel using a Qiaquick Gel Extraction Kit (Qiagen, Australia). The DNA concentration of each purified fragment was then quantified on a ND-1000 (Thermo Scientific, USA) and equimolar amounts of all fragments from each species were pooled. Each pool was checked for quality and quantity by assay on a ND-1000 (Thermo Scientific, USA) and by Agarose gel electrophoresis. The fragment pools were frozen and shipped cold to the Australian Genome Research Facility (AGRF, St Lucia, QLD, Australia).
454 sequencing and assembly
After nebulisation, we barcoded the pool from each species and had it sequenced on a Life Sciences GS-FLX according to standard procedures (454 Life Sciences, Branford, CT, USA). Sequences were "base-called" using 454 software and then separated according to the barcode. The sequences that did not have a functional barcode were discarded (<0.7%). We truncated those sequences with low base-call quality before separately assembling the sequences of each species to the reference gene sequences using CLC Genomics Workbench software (CLC bio, Aarhus, Denmark) with the software's standard assembly parameters. For each gene, we excluded regions of low read depth (<20). For unknown reasons there were no sequences for the E. globulus dxr gene. Files containing reads' sequences and quality scores were deposited in the Short Read Archive of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [accession number SRA008618].
SNP detection and analysis
We used the CLC Genomics Workbench software (CLC bio, Denmark) to detect single nucleotide variants within each species. After reference assembly we had average sequencing depths between 242 and 410 reads at each nucleotide site (average of 315). We used a SNP discovery window of 7 bp at a central base quality score of 40 with surrounding base quality scores of 20 or more. At read depths between 20 and 50, we kept only alleles at a frequency of at least 10%, whereas at read depths over 50, any allele frequencies were kept as long as there were at least 3 reads with the allele variant. Our confidence criteria lead to the exclusion of 3,734 SNPs. We designated alleles "rare" if they occurred at frequencies below 10% and "common" when their frequencies equalled or exceeded 10%. Finally, we counted the number of SNPs for each gene and normalized it to 1,000 bp. For the estimation of intraspecific selection, we calculated the ratio of non-synonymous variants per non-synonymous site (pN) and synonymous variants per synonymous sites (pS). We then calculated the ratio of pN/pS for each gene and species .
The field collections and DNA extractions of E. globulus were done jointly with CSIRO Forest Biosciences. We thank Forestry Tasmania for access to the field trial of E. nitens and Penny Butcher and Simon Southerton (CSIRO Forest Biosciences) for access to the DNA collections of E. camaldulensis. We thank the WA Department of Environment and Conservation for population collections of E. loxophleba. This research was supported under Australian Research Council's Linkage Projects funding scheme to WJF (project number LP0667708). We acknowledge financial support from Oji Paper Company Ltd and Forests NSW.
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