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eYGFPuv-Assisted Transgenic Selection in Populus deltoides WV94 and Multiplex Genome Editing in Protoplasts of P. trichocarpa × P. deltoides Clone ‘52-225’

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Although CRISPR/Cas-based genome editing has been widely used for plant genetic engineering, its application in the genetic improvement of trees has been limited, partly because of challenges in Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. As an important model for poplar genomics and biotechnology research, eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) clone WV94 can be transformed by A. tumefaciens, but several challenges remain unresolved, including the relatively low transformation efficiency and the relatively high rate of false positives from antibiotic-based selection of transgenic events. Moreover, the efficacy of CRISPR-Cas system has not been explored in P. deltoides yet. Here, we first optimized the protocol for Agrobacterium-mediated stable transformation in P. deltoides WV94 and applied a UV-visible reporter called eYGFPuv in transformation. Our results showed that the transgenic events in the early stage of transformation could be easily recognized and counted in a non-invasive manner to narrow down the number of regenerated shoots for further molecular characterization (at the DNA or mRNA level) using PCR. We found that approximately 8.7% of explants regenerated transgenic shoots with green fluorescence within two months. Next, we examined the efficacy of multiplex CRISPR-based genome editing in the protoplasts derived from P. deltoides WV94 and hybrid poplar clone ‘52-225’ (P. trichocarpa × P. deltoides clone ‘52-225’). The two constructs expressing the Trex2-Cas9 system resulted in mutation efficiency ranging from 31% to 57% in hybrid poplar clone 52-225, but no editing events were observed in P. deltoides WV94 transient assay. The eYGFPuv-assisted plant transformation and genome editing approach demonstrated in this study has great potential for accelerating the genome editing-based breeding process in poplar and other non-model plants species and point to the need for additional CRISPR work in P. deltoides.