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Association mapping, transcriptomics, and transient expression identify candidate genes mediating plant–pathogen interactions in a tree

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Invasive microbes causing diseases such as sudden oak death negatively affect ecosystems and economies around the world. The deployment of resistant genotypes for combating introduced diseases typically relies on breeding programs that can take decades to complete. To demonstrate how this process can be accelerated, we employed a genome-wide association mapping of ca. 1,000 resequenced Populus trichocarpa trees individually challenged with Sphaerulina musiva, an invasive fungal pathogen. Among significant associations, three loci associated with resistance were identified and predicted to encode one putative membrane-bound L-type receptor-like kinase and two receptor-like proteins. A susceptibility-associated locus was predicted to encode a putative G-type D-mannose–binding receptor-like kinase. Multiple lines of evidence, including allele analysis, transcriptomics, binding assays, and overexpression, support the hypothesized function of these candidate genes in the P. trichocarpa response to S. musiva.